Andy Bowen, Josh Stilwell, Mason Romero, DVM , and Erica Bowen, DVM
Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
rescue and adoption

Special dogs need special homes

A guide to adopting special needs and elderly dogs

Updated June 19, 2020

Created By

,

special dogs are especially rewarding

Sometimes your furry friend may need a little more TLC, and that’s okay.

When most of us make the decision to take on a furry companion, we expect it to be smooth sailing. After much consideration and debate, you bring home your perfect dog to spend the rest of your lives together. You will always have someone by your side as your trusty companion to gallop through fields with.

However, it doesn’t always happen like this from start to finish. Your dog may have been born with special needs, or old age has weakened him, making him far less playful. If you’re a super special person, you may have even sought out a dog with special needs. 👏

Regardless of the timeline, this guide will help ease the process and guide you in adopting a dog with special needs, living with a dog with special needs, and aiding the transition of a healthy dog to one that needs a little more love.

Adopting a special needs pet isn’t for everyone

Although a term that is used a lot in animal care, there is no universal definition for the term “special needs” in dogs. Arguably, special needs can mean anything: from dogs with minor health issues or disabilities to those with long term diseases that need constant monitoring and daily adjustments.

With special needs come, well, special needs. Often, they require more vet visits, more medicines, and more adjustments throughout the home. This means (you guessed it!), you should be open to spending a larger chunk of your payslip on a special needs dog.

As an owner of a special needs dog, your independence may be impacted. You may have to hand-feed your dog or check on them during your lunch break at work. Maybe your pet can’t move without being strapped into special equipment, which means they need basically 24/7 supervision. Some boarding kennels may be uneasy when looking after a special needs dog. We recommend that you ensure you have friends, family, and a boarding kennel near you that will look after your dog in case you decide to go away.

Although not all special needs dogs need 24-hour surveillance and specialist equipment, you can come across some shared difficulties. Each situation is different, but here are some common conditions that can class your dog as special needs.

Health Considerations

Common health conditions in special needs dogs

House soiling Some dogs struggle to go to the toilet in an area you deem acceptable. This can be due to a multitude of factors, such as old age or disease.
Anxiety/aggression If your dog attacks every living object in sight (including yourself and family members), special measures must be implemented to ensure the safety of yourself and everyone around you. Some owners chose to implement special methods, such as walking after dark and constant muzzling when not crated.
Canine megaesophagus Your dog may struggle to digest food, which in turn can lead to malnutrition. A special diet and a special feeder should be adopted.
Sensory Issues A dog that is deaf, blind, or both.
Diabetes A disease in which your dog struggles with their sugar levels. Unfortunately, only 50% of diagnosed dogs live long after diagnosis. If yours is one of the lucky ones, you will have to care for them and accept the potential side effects: blindness, urinary tract diseases, and kidney issues. A specialized diet should also be considered.
Cushing's Disease Your dog's body produces too much of the stress hormone, cortisol. This leads to extreme thirst, which is paired with excessive urination. Further down the line, baldness, obesity, and skin lesions can occur.
Arthritis Your dog experiences stiff bones and joints. Often a common symptom of old age, the pain can be reduced with medication and specialized equipment.
Dwarfism Abnormally small dogs can have a multitude of issues.
Paralysis Dogs that cannot move certain muscles and bones within their body. It can lead to a dog with one limb which does not work, or, unfortunately, all of them. Paralysis can be caused by issues such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disk disease, thromboembolic diseases

Don’t let these challenges put you off — special needs dogs can be incredibly rewarding. There is something beautiful about saving a life which many other people pass over. If you’re interested in community work, you can even use them as an educational tool or a mascot!

How can I find a special needs or elderly dog to adopt

If you think you’re up to the challenge of a special needs dog, try looking at your local shelter. Ring them up and see if they have any special needs dogs to adopt. You can even go to a special needs dog rescue. If you’re looking to be even more specific, you can key in the kind of disabled dog you would like to adopt. For example, “deaf dog rescue center” or “dog retirement rescue center.”

How to prepare for a special needs dog

Depending on the needs of your dog, you may have to purchase items most dog owners do not have, like canine diapers or vertical feeders. Your pet insurance may be higher, depending on the need. (Note: Pet insurance for aggressive dogs is much higher for those that are blind).

Before your dog arrives, make sure you have a supply of medicine for him, in bulk if you can. Not having the right medicine can be a death sentence for a dog with special needs. If you’re feeling super prepared, maybe try scouring the internet for a veterinary practice you would think is better suited to your dog.

Just to be safe, we recommend putting aside a doggie savings account to make sure you’re not faced with any difficult scenarios in the future. Make sure your boss would be chill with taking time off work to be with your doggo, too.

How to prepare for an elderly dog

Find support! — One of the saddest facts of life is that your faithful companion will not be by your side forever. They’ll eventually grow weak and old, and as the owner, you have a duty of care. You must make sure your home is comfortable, invest in a ramp for the car, reorganize your home to make things as simple as possible. Supply them with extra blankets, and maybe get some puppy pads for the house in case of accidents.

Although you would do anything to keep your dog right beside you, you must ask yourself whether your dog’s life is a life worth living. Do they experience more pain than pleasure? Are there a lot of operations lined up that they may not survive?

As much as it hurts, consider the costs of euthanasia, medicine, burial/cremation costs, and any other extras you may want to aid in the grieving process (think personalized photo books, or collar decoration to frame). Euthanasia can cost between $50 – $350 dollars, while cremation usually is around the $150 mark.

Is it worth it?

If you are questioning whether you will be able to commit to a special needs dog, then my answer would probably be that it isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you are willing to go above and beyond for your special pooch, we say, “go ahead!”.

Regardless of what some people may think, special needs isn’t a death sentence! Unless they’re in pain, dogs can barely tell that they’re special needs. All they know is that they have a super great life, with their super great owner.

If you’re finding it difficult to look after your dog, there are support groups that you can find for help. If there are no local support groups near you – make one yourself! You never know who else would be grateful for someone to talk to.

So go on, let a special needs dog into your heart. But, before you do, make sure you’ve got the right supplies to help them thrive!