How to adopt a special needs cat

Whatever their situation, we believe all cats deserve a good home, and cats with special needs deserve owners who can dedicate themselves to giving their cats plenty of love and support. If you have a cat with special needs, keep track of your experiences in our Cat Journal and discover what other cat owners are talking about.


Having a blind cat may be easier than you think, as cats already rely on other senses quite a bit anyway. Believe it or not, you do not have to do much to accommodate a blind cat. Sometimes cat owners don’t realize their kitten is blind for a while, because behavior like running into objects or having trouble locating things may just seem kitten-like. One thing you can do for your blind cat is to keep things like the feeding dish, water and litter boxes in the same place. This way, your cat can rely on memory to find what he or she needs.

Even though a deaf cat won’t be able to hear you, he or she can still process your body language and rely on other senses like sight and touch to understand your home environment. Deaf cats can lead very normal, healthy lives.

The most common physical deformity cats experience is the loss of a limb. Luckily, three-legged cats can carry on the same way other cats do. The biggest challenge with a cat like this is maintaining a healthy weight, so being careful with nutrition is a must.


Some cats have a genetic predisposition to heart problems. The age of onset varies widely – if your cat develops heart problems at a young age, you can still help him or her live a full and healthy life.

To make things more comfortable and minimize stress, you can provide your cat with a calm, secure space in your home, away from other pets and kids. And of course, be sure to check in with your veterinarian regularly.

FIV affects cats all over the world. It is slow acting, so it may take years for symptoms to show. If your cat has FIV, there’s plenty you can do – both before and after the disease takes hold. Keep your cat indoors to minimize stress and exposure to other diseases, and make sure your cat is spayed and neutered. Take note of all changes in health and behavior and see a veterinarian regularly.

Another important note: FIV is contagious, so it may be best to consider other options if you already have healthy cats in the home.


When you adopt a cat with a physical limitation or a medical issue, you’re helping the cat live a full life. People who adopt special needs cats know they’re doing the right thing – what ends up surprising them is how much their new cat ends up doing for them. Adopting a special needs cat is a fulfilling, unique experience. As long as you understand the effort that’s required, adopting a special needs cat is a great option.

What could be better than giving a loving home to a cat who has been overlooked merely because she is a little different? But living with special-needs cats is not without challenges. As a cat mom to a three-legged mischievous kitty named Smoochie, I know firsthand that a cat with physical challenges can come with behavior challenges, too.

How to adopt a special needs cat

Blind kitties are just one of the many special-needs cats out there. Photography by Casey Elise Christopher.

Prepare your home if you are adopting special-needs cats

First, look around your home to make sure it’s a friendly environment for your cat’s special needs. In the case of Smoochie, she came to me at the age of 4 weeks with a severely damaged back leg. She was special because of her leg (which was later amputated) and because of her young age and tiny size. At the time, my other cats were all adults, so we had large and high litter boxes. That was just not going to work. To accommodate her bad leg and her tiny size, we used Fancy Feast boxes (the ones for a 24-pack), and they were just the right size for her. Now that she’s fully grown, three-legged Smoochie uses a Booda Dome litter box with a ramp that leads into the box, so it’s easy for her to climb inside.

One of my clients has a deaf cat named Crystal. Since Crystal cannot hear, my client has developed a sort of sign language to communicate with her. Pointing to her mouth tells Crystal it’s dinnertime, for example. Whenever I visited Crystal, I was instructed to approach her gently and touch her softly with a feather so as not to startle her by abruptly waking her. I have also worked with people who have blind cats. It’s important to let a blind kitty get oriented to her surroundings without making any changes to furniture placement. That is not to say you can never move your furniture, but while your blind cat is getting settled, leave everything in the same place. Adding different scents to each room also helps your blind cat learn his way around.

Special-needs cats and behavior issues

A special-needs cat may come with some emotional issues, depending on how long she has had special needs, was in a shelter or rescue and how well she has adapted to her challenge. Although my Smoochie has been with me since the age of 4 weeks, she has some behavior traits that I attribute to her missing leg and small stature. Smoochie is extremely protective of her food, for example. She lashes out at the larger cats at mealtime as I’m preparing the food bowls, putting them on notice that she eats first. The funny part: They actually respect her position as alpha female. At times, she’ll act the same way when she’s on my lap and another cat comes around. She knows it’s unacceptable behavior, so all I need to do is put my hand on her side, and she settles back down. Most of the time, though, she runs and plays and cuddles with the other cats just fine.

Recently, I was contacted by a woman who adopted a blind cat. The cat regularly missed the litter box. The cat was new to the household and still learning her way around. After discussing exactly where the litter box was (upstairs!), I suggested that she put a box on the first floor and bring the cat over to the box to let her know it was there. I also suggested the use of catnip spray around the box to lead her to it until she had memorized how to find it. Since then, there have been no more accidents.

Another issue blind cats face is boredom. They don’t get visual stimulation like sighted cats, so you need to provide them with tactile toys. Yes, blind cats DO play with toys! Textures, smells and shapes are important in giving your blind cat some playtime fun and stimulation. A little catnip helps, too!

Can special-needs cats live with other cats?

Absolutely! Introductions between them work the same as they would between any other cats — slow and supervised. A special-needs cat might be skittish, so build up her confidence. Start her off in a smaller room rather than giving her the run of the house to get her used to new surroundings and people. Talk to her in soothing tones, and offer praise and yummy treats to help her settle in and associate her new home with good things. Give her slow eye blinks — this signals friendship to your cat. Make sure she has places to “hide” like cubby holes and cat trees where she can observe her new surroundings undisturbed.

Playtime is always a good way to help a new cat feel good about her surroundings and build up her confidence. Before you know it, your cats will be buddies, spending their days playing and curling up for catnaps together, for the rest of their happy lives.

How to adopt a special needs cat

If you need to give up your pet, we recommend that you make every effort to place your cat or dog directly into a new home. It is possible to place animals with even profound disabilities. It may take time and patience, but fortunately quite a few animal lovers are drawn to special-needs animals. In Pets with Disabilities: Helping Special-Needs Animals Get Adopted, Best Friends co-founder Faith Maloney talks about how these unique animals can work their magic on adopters.

Getting your pet ready for adoption

There are many strategies that you can use to find a new home for your pet. First, you’ll need to get your pet ready for adoption. Here are some steps to help you do that:

  1. First, make sure your pet has had a thorough veterinary examination and is up-to-date on all vaccinations. Make sure you obtain a specific diagnosis and treatment plan for your pet. For example, if the animal has difficulty controlling elimination, obtain and write up specific information about what the animal can and can’t do and the type of assistance needed. To find a good home, it’s much better to be honest and up-front about the type of care an animal will need.
  2. If your pet isn’t spayed or neutered, have it done. We don’t recommend placing an animal who has not been spayed/neutered into a new home. Doing so can result in unwanted litters, and neutered animals are less likely to show undesirable mating behaviors, such as mounting or howling. Puppies and kittens as young as eight weeks old can be spayed/neutered. For more information, talk to your veterinarian. If you need to find a source of low-cost spay/neuter surgery in your area, check the SPAYUSA website.
  3. Take several good-quality digital photos of your pet. Make sure your pet is well-groomed, is looking at the camera, and can be seen clearly in the photos. If you don’t have a digital camera, use a cell phone camera or whatever you have available.
  4. Write a good adoption “ad” for your pet. For some tips on how to write an appealing ad, read How to Write Pet Profiles in the Best Friends resource library.
  5. When contacting individuals or groups about your pet, it will help tremendously if you have a nice flyer to hand out. At, you can combine a photo of your pet and the adoption ad into a flyer by following the simple instructions. Plug in your contact information and the adoption ad, and upload a photo, and you’ll have a very attractive flyer. You can save it as a digital file, which can be attached to emails and used for posting on social media websites, and you can also print out hard copies for posting around town.

Putting the word out

Once you have your pet ready for adoption, get creative and think of ways that you can spread the word. Here are some ideas:

  1. Post the flyer or information about your pet on social media sites, such as Facebook. Ask friends and family members to do the same.
  2. Put up flyers at your workplace, your church, your veterinarian’s office – and other places where there’s a public bulletin board. Be creative: If you have a blind pet, for example, post flyers at local optometrists’ offices. If the pet is a senior, get information out to elderly housing and assisted-living facilities that allow pets.
  3. Contact all rescue groups and shelters in your area. Even if they can’t take your pet, some groups will offer courtesy postings on their websites, or allow you to bring the animal to one of their adoption events. Some ways to find local rescue groups and shelters:
  4. Post information about your pet in the classifieds section on

Websites for special-needs pets

There are also some websites specifically for special-needs pets, and on a few of them you can post adoption information.

  • Blind dogs: //
  • Deaf dogs: //
  • Senior dogs: //

You can also post messages on the following Yahoo groups:

  • Senior cats: //
  • Disabled cats: //
  • Senior and special-needs dogs: //
  • Senior dogs: //
  • Senior dogs: //

Some people are hesitant to publicize information about their pets because they fear that people who would treat the pet unkindly will respond. Remember, you are in control of your pet and where he or she is placed. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and follow up on them.

Finally, for more information about screening potential adopters, and more ideas to help you rehome your pet, read Best Friends’ guide How to Find Homes for Homeless Pets.

How to adopt a special needs cat

Special needs kitties need special people. And ASAP has a number of cats just looking for their special person. Unfortunately we don’t have a line of people waiting to apply for the position! There are a lot of things that may make a shelter cat seem less adoptable at first glance. They may have a medical condition or they may be having a particularly hard time adjusting to the shelter. Or maybe they are just a little more mature than the rest. But if you take the time to look a little more carefully, they can be the most rewarding of all pets to adopt.

Regardless of their special situation, they all need love and a place to call home. Yet these wonderful companions often end up staying at the shelter for months on end because they are so overlooked. Won’t you consider adopting or sponsoring a special needs kitty?

Cats with Medical Conditions
Sometimes all it takes to be a
Hero is the willingness to make simple adjustments
to accommodate a pet’s limitations!

Scaredy Cats
The bond formed between a
timid cat and their person is
often the strongest bond of all.

FIV + Cats
Despite the scary label,
FIV+ cats can live perfectly long and
happy lives with the proper care.

Single Pet Cats
Single pet cats and some kitties
want you all to themselves…
How can that be bad?

How to adopt a special needs cat

A special needs animal is one who may either require medical care and attention due to a pre-existing condition, or one who needs extra socialization and training due to abuse or neglect in their former life. Sometimes, “special needs” just refers to an older animal who may be on a special diet or medication, but who still has lots of affection and companionship to offer. If you’re willing to spend a little more time – and sometimes a little more money – adopting an animal with special needs can be one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences of your life.

What Should I Consider Before Adopting a Special Needs Animal?

Special needs animals may take a little longer to settle into your home. Some of these animals may have been neglected or abused and require lots of love and encouragement to experience a more normal relationship with humans.

Pet-owning Experience
Having experience with a type of animal – either a dog, cat or rabbit – will make it easier for you to adopt a special needs pet of that type. For example, if you’ve owned a dog in the past, you’ll have some behavioral guidelines to help assess how well your new, special needs dog is progressing.

Financial Considerations
Many special needs animals have medical conditions or disabilities that may require expensive medical care. Sometimes they may just require more expensive food for an allergy or digestive disorder, or more behavioral training. However, others may need ongoing medical tests, surgeries, or evaluations at veterinary specialists – all of which can require large outlays of money. Consult with your veterinarian before adopting a special needs animal to determine what type of care may be needed and the approximate costs of that care.

Before adopting a special needs animal, make sure you do as much research as possible on their condition. Understanding the implications of their diagnosis or behavioral problem may help you decide if you and your family are ready to adopt this animal.

Senior cat adoption or adopting a cat with special needs is an admirable and rewarding decision. Here are 6 things you should know before you commit to bringing one of these special animals into your home.

How to adopt a special needs cat

1. It can be a time commitment.

But, it will be worth it. Some special needs cats require more attention and effort than others, depending on how many challenges your furry friend faces in everyday life. Special needs and senior cat care may require extra measures, such as providing specific food or giving regular baths. However, in return, your cat will love you unconditionally for being able to provide them with a happy, safe and comfortable life.

How to adopt a special needs cat

2. You may need to create a special space in your home for your cat.

Depending on your cat’s physical limitations, you may need to keep food, litter boxes and other amenities in close proximity to each other.

How to adopt a special needs cat

3. You may need a calm environment.

When caring for elderly or special needs cats, a chaotic environment may make their lives more stressful. Small children may not be able to provide that environment for these animals, so consider carefully before adopting.

How to adopt a special needs cat

4. You may need reliable transportation and income.

Some elderly or special needs cats require frequent trips to the veterinarian, so you should make sure that you have a reliable and safe way to transport them. Trips to the vet, medicines and other assistance all cost money, so you should be certain that you can afford these things before you commit to caring for a special needs or senior cat.

How to adopt a special needs cat

5. Senior and special needs cats may be a better alternative to a kitten.

Kittens are unpredictable and full of energy, while a senior cat has already developed its personality, and special needs cats may not cause quite so much chaos. They may be a better alternative for people who can’t keep up with a rambunctious kitten.

How to adopt a special needs cat

6. They can make excellent cuddle buddies.

Senior cats and special needs cats don’t have as much energy as kittens, and they have longer attention spans, so a cuddle session on the couch may be exactly what they need. They also tend to be better at reading your emotions, so they’ll know when you need some extra affection.

Before you commit to adopting a special needs or elderly cat, you should make sure you are prepared to fulfill all of their needs. These special animals will appreciate you all the more for giving them a stable and loving environment.

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How to adopt a special needs cat

Are you adopting soon? That’s great! But before you do, consider giving two cats their forever homes instead of one. Find the four surprising benefits for adopting two at the same time here.

How to adopt a special needs cat

Bringing home a new family member from a cat rescue is an exciting and important time. Make sure you prepare your home for your new furry friend! Here are 6 tips you need to know to make your feel right at home!

How to adopt a special needs cat

Worried your current cat can’t cope with an new sibling? Ensure a smooth transition by allowing them to get used to each others’ scents before meeting.

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  • How to adopt a special needs cat

Although all pets should be celebrated every day, a specific day in May is set aside for pets with special needs, such as those who are blind, deaf, chronically ill, or an amputee. On May 3, we acknowledge Specially-Abled Pets Day, which celebrates disabled pets and encourages families to open their homes to animals with special needs.

Choosing to welcome a specially-abled cat into your family is an admirable and rewarding decision, but such a pet comes with a set of challenges. Here are five things to consider before adopting a special needs cat.

#1: A specially-abled cat can be a huge commitment

Adopting a cat with special needs can require a huge commitment in regards to your time, finances, and emotions. As caretaker for a specially-abled pet, you’ll need to shoulder many burdens, depending on how many challenges your cat faces in everyday life. Some special needs cats require lots of attention and effort, while many simply need a safe space to live. Specially-abled cats may need daily medication, prescription diets, regular grooming and bathing, environmental modification, and an understanding person to provide appropriate care. However, although these cats require a bigger commitment than your typical adult house cat, they will repay you ten-fold with love and devotion.

#2: A specially-abled cat will need a special living space

How to adopt a special needs cat

Depending on your cat’s physical limitations, you may need to revamp a section of your home to provide your specially-abled pet an ideal living situation.

  • For blind cats — Block access to stairs and tall furniture to ensure they cannot fall. Purchase horizontal scratching posts so they don’t feel the need to scale a tall tower. Keep the environment the same, and try to refrain from moving furniture. To help your blind cat navigate, guide them with strategically placed scent markers .
  • For amputee or arthritic cats — Cats who are physically challenged, whether because of a missing limb or painful joints, require several home modifications to navigate easily and comfortably. Choose low-sided litter boxes that allow your cat easy access, and raise their food and water dishes to a comfortable height. Place firm orthopedic beds in your cat’s favorite resting area, since they can find jumping out of fluffy beds difficult. Entertain your cat at their level,without requiring them to jump or climb to gaze out a window or enjoy a lookout perch. Interactive toys, food puzzles, and scratching posts can help entertain your cat without excessive physical activity.

#3: Your specially-abled cat may need a calm environment

A chaotic, noisy environment may be stressful for a special needs cat. Small children and other pets may provide such an environment, so consider your home life carefully before adopting a cat who requires peace and quiet.

#4: A special needs cat can impact your budget

Some special needs cats require frequent veterinary care, so ensure you have reliable, safe transportation. Also, consider the financial aspect of owning a special needs cat. Healthy pets require many necessities to remain in tip-top shape, and a cat with a chronic illness or condition typically needs much more, especially in terms of veterinary care. Carefully consider how a special needs cat could impact your budget, as lifelong management of some chronic conditions can be costly.

#5: Will you be comfortable providing advanced care for your specially-abled cat?

How to adopt a special needs cat

Your special needs cat may require frequent veterinary care, but you can likely provide a great deal of their care at home. For example, a cat with chronic kidney disease should be frequently evaluated for changes in kidney function, blood pressure, and urinary health, which require a veterinary visit. At home, you can administer subcutaneous fluids, anti-nausea medication, kidney health supplements, and prescription foods to help maintain your pet’s quality of life. Many specially-abled pets require some sort of medication, in oral or injectable form, so ask yourself if you’re comfortable administering medications and other types of advanced care for your unique cat.

When you adopt a cat with a physical limitation or a medical issue, you’re helping the cat live a full and happy life. Adopting a special needs cat is a fulfilling, rewarding experience, for both you and your new feline friend, but you must be aware of the extra care they will need.

Are you considering welcoming a special needs cat into your family? Contact our Just Cats Clinic team with any questions prior to adoption, and then schedule an appointment for your new feline friend.

How to adopt a special needs cat

Their bodies may be imperfect, but their spirit remains intact.

So it is said about the special needs cat. Although caring for one can be challenging, more and more people are opening their hearts and their homes and adopting them. For this reason, more and more cats that might otherwise be euthanized are being given a new lease on life.

Experts stress the importance of not viewing special needs cats as “handicapped.” Although they have certain limitations (including blindness, deafness or a combination of both, cerebellar hypoplasia and three-leggedness), they’re not “aware” of them, and can be as active, affectionate and playful as any other cat.

Adopters of special needs cats insist that the rewards far outweigh the work. Many use social media to share their experiences, to interact with owners like them, and to encourage others to adopt. They don’t see their cats’ medical or physical problems as shortcomings, and don’t believe they make them any ”less” of a cat.

Those interested in adopting a special needs cat should first fully inform themselves about that cat’s condition and limitations, requirements and maintenance. This should also include meeting with their vet, requesting a tutorial on administering any necessary medications, and openly discussing any concerns they might have.

Sadly, cats who are blind or deaf (or both) have been characterized as aggressive and unpredictable, prone to other health issues, even a shorter life span. Studies, however, have proven otherwise, showing that despite their obvious deficiencies, these cats are generally quite healthy and capable of living long, otherwise normal lives. And that, whether blind or deaf, they are no more aggressive or unpredictable than sighted or hearing cats.

Blind cats are trained through the use of both sound and scent cues. By relying on their highly developed sense of smell, their noses let them know where and what things are, and when combined with their owner’s reassuring voice and touch, helps them live easily and comfortably.

They quickly learn and “map out” their surroundings, and for added protection, have a “go to” place, where their food and water bowls, cat bed and toys (squeakies, crinklies and ones with bells inside are best) are placed on a distinctive mat and never moved. A runner or large area rug provides them with a safe play area because the traction is good and the edges clearly discernible. Sharp edges on furniture can be padded with bubble-wrap or foam pipe insulation to help prevent injury.

Deaf cats, who sleep more and meow loudly (they can’t hear themselves) watch their owners more closely, taking cues from their behavior. They also pay closer attention to vibrations and air currents, while their “internal clocks” let them know when it’s mealtime. Deaf cats can be trained by using hand signals or the beam of a flashlight with treats as reinforcement. And because they startle easily, if their attention is elsewhere, owners should always approach them by walking with a “heavy foot” to get their attention and avoid being accidentally nipped.

Cats with cerebellar hypoplasia will be wobbly and uncoordinated to varying degrees and have characteristic head tremors when they try to focus on something. At times it may seem as if they’re heading in two directions at once, but they DO adapt to these challenges. Given a safe environment and barring any accidents caused by their lack of coordination, they live as long as “normal” cats and barely seem bothered by their condition.

Tripods (cats born with a limb missing or amputated) can live long, healthy lives with minimal adjustments (from special ramps and stairs to new litter boxes) in order to compensate for that limb. And because cats are both ingenious (such as adapting to new ways of self-grooming) and nimble, the loss of a leg usually doesn’t stop them from enjoying life to the fullest.

As the owners of special needs cats agree, their own lives have been irrevocably changed. By the endearing personalities, grace and determination of the cats they have adopted. By the gift of their cats’ contented meows and purrs, licks and cuddles. But most importantly, by the example they have set and the inspiration they have provided.

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Our hearts belong with the less adoptable…the ones who aren’t “perfect’ in society’s eyes. The ones who have so much love to give, but are often overlooked out of fear or because they are different.

When you are ready to adopt, please consider one of these amazing pets! Don’t overlook the shy dog or cat that is scared and is hiding in their kennel. The shelter is a scary place and not a good indicator of a pet’s true personalities.

Your heart will be rewarded every day with love you couldn’t imagine!

How to adopt a special needs cat

Benefits of adopting an Adult, Senior or Special Needs Pet!

  1. They are often housebroken (or just need a refresher course).
  2. They often know basic obedience and commands.
  3. They are full-grown, so you know exactly what to expect.
  4. They are past the chewing stage.
  5. They have lots of love and years left to give.
  6. They are so appreciative of a second chance at life.
  7. They have mellowed, but still have energy to be active.
  8. Giving an overlooked pet a loving home.
  9. They can be taught new tricks
  10. Their love can’t be beat!

Visit our Find a Rescue or Shelter page…and find your new best friend!