Special Needs Cats: Should You Adopt a Cat with a Disability?


Special needs cat missing an eye
Mary H. Swift / Alamy Stock Photo
Adopting any pet is a big decision, but a cat with special needs is even more of a commitment. Whether they deal with blindness, deafness, or a neurological disorder, a cat with a disability requires extra care and attention. At the end of the day though, cats with special needs are just like every other cat; they’re just looking for a home to provide them with a little TLC.

“Special needs animals don’t know there is anything different about them and can add so much joy and laughter to a home, sometimes because of how amazing they can be and the things they can still do despite their special needs,” says Heather Payer-Smith, president of The Cat’s Meow Rescue. “Knowing you and your family are giving a wonderful life and loving home to a cat that may not have otherwise been considered, that feeling can be priceless.”

Are you considering adopting a special needs cat? Learn all about these awesome cats and the top reasons you should adopt one.

What are common disabilities in cats?

Common disabilities in cats include visual and hearing impairment, as well as neurological issues. But special needs cats can have anything from mild health issues that require daily medication to more challenging conditions that limit their mobility. Here are a few of the more common disabilities in cats:

Deafness in cats

Cats may be born deaf or may lose their hearing later in life because of illness or injury. Most cats adapt to hearing loss relatively well and use their other senses to help compensate for their deafness. In some cases, it can even be hard to tell if a cat is deaf or hard of hearing because of how well they navigate the world without this sense. 

Blindness in cats

Similar to deafness, blindness can be an inherited trait in cats or a result of aging, illness like retinal disease, or injury. Vision issues can be partial or complete, affecting one or both eyes. Just like cats with hearing impairments, blind cats use their other senses to help them adapt, such as smell and hearing, both of which are much more powerful in cats than in humans. 

Cerebellar hypoplasia in cats

While you may not know this condition by name, you’ve likely encountered special needs kittens or cats with cerebellar hypoplasia on social media. Known as “wobbly cat syndrome,” this developmental condition prevents the proper development of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls fine motor skills, balance, and coordination. Cerebellar hypoplasia can be mild, moderate, or severe and presents in kittens by the age of 10 months. Symptoms can include unsteady walking, tremors, or even an inability to walk altogether in more severe cases. Fortunately, this condition isn’t painful and doesn’t affect the cat’s lifespan. 

Things to consider before adopting a special needs cat

Adopting a special needs cat is a long-term commitment, and their care often goes well beyond simply providing a litter box, food, and water. Many cats with disabilities need more attention, time, and care, so it’s important to fully understand what your potential new pet will require before adopting a special needs cat.

“One of the first questions we ask when someone reaches out with interest in adopting a special needs cat is ‘What degree of special needs are you open to considering, and what special needs and/or behavior or medical issues do you feel you can accommodate and accept?’” Payer-Smith says. “We want to make sure that potential adopters are aware of the commitment, cost, and demands that they may face.”

What type of special needs does the cat have?

“Special needs” is a very broad term and can include a wide variety of conditions and issues. If you decide to seek out cats for adoption with special needs, make sure you fully understand the requirements of their care and how you can make their life as pleasant as possible.

What kind of care does a special needs cat require?

Depending on their disability, a special needs cat will require more care than a cat without a disability. You may need to visit the veterinarian more frequently, administer medication daily, bathe them regularly, or assist your special needs cat with pooping and peeing.

You may also have to make changes to your home, such as adding safety gates to staircases, to keep your cat safe and help them move around more easily. For example, cats with mobility issues may need their food, water, and litter box all nearby for easy access and use. Many rescues and shelters may require an adoption home visit to ensure that you and your space are fully prepared to take in a special needs cat.

Will the cat need additional vet trips or expensive medication?

Many cats with special needs will have to visit the vet more than once a year and may even need to take regular medication each day. Before scrolling through online listings of disabled cats for adoption, make sure you have the financial resources to handle this extra care.

Do you have the resources to properly care for the cat?

A special needs cat may need more space in your home, such as a designated area just for them, in addition to more frequent trips to the vet and medications. These requirements can quickly drain your bank account, so consider whether you have the financial security and stability to care for a cat with a disability.

What else should you consider when adopting a special needs cat?

Before adopting a special needs cat, consider their needs and whether they’re a good fit for your lifestyle.

  • Some special needs cats may require a calm and quiet home environment, which means they may need to be the only pet in the home or shouldn’t be around small children or frequent loud noises.
  • When you are unavailable, it is important to have an experienced pet sitter who can provide specialized services such as overnight care or medication administration.

Top reasons to adopt a special needs cat

Special needs cats are just as worthy of love as any other animal and can be just as affectionate and companionable as their non-disabled counterparts — sometimes even more so. There are many benefits of adopting a special needs cat:

  • By adopting a special needs cat, you are saving a life and freeing up space and resources for the rescue to take in more animals.
  • Special needs animals have a lower adoption rate and are often overlooked because of their differences. You can be the person who finally gives them a loving home.
  • Special needs cats may inspire you as they overcome hardship with their resiliency, which can encourage you to face your own life challenges.
  • Many cats with special needs form especially strong bonds with their caretakers.

“We believe, with special needs cats, the ‘special’ often outweighs the ‘need,’” Payer-Smith says. “Special needs cats are just as loving, playful, full of life and, even more so, full of love as any other cat. It’s rewarding to see a cat that may have a few challenges to overcome continue to blossom, learn, and discover new things.”

What are the potential challenges of adopting a special needs cat?

As with any pet, adopting a special needs cat is a commitment to care for that animal for the rest of their life. If your cat has a disability, that’s an even bigger commitment of both time and money. Your cat may require a specific food or type of diet or need weekly baths. Other challenges of special needs cats can include making time for regular vet visits and daily medications. It’s essential to understand these potential challenges before you decide to adopt a cat with a disability.

“If your cat requires medication twice a day at consistent intervals, it can be tough to coordinate plans or find someone trustworthy to pet-sit or administer medication as needed,” Payer-Smith says. “Finding the right balance can sometimes seem overwhelming but is very important for the well-being of the cat and can make their care needs more manageable.”

Where can you adopt special needs cats?

There are shelters and rescues throughout the U.S. and internationally that focus specifically on caring for and finding homes for special needs cats. Even your local shelter may have some cats with disabilities who desperately need loving homes.

“Online adoption sites like AdoptaPet.com can help with searching for special needs pets,” Payer-Smith says. “But the best way to start would be reaching out to your local shelter to see what special needs rescues they work with and can recommend for local adoptions.”

FAQ (People Also Ask):

Are special needs cats more expensive to care for?

Yes, special needs cats are more expensive to care for. While the level of care a special needs cat requires will depend on their disability, you can usually expect these pets to cost more than the average rescue cat. Extra costs can include more frequent vet visits, medications, and other assistance.

What if I can’t handle the care of my special needs cat anymore?

If you find yourself unable to handle the care of your special needs cat, contact the rescue or shelter you adopted from and let them know. Generally, these organizations prefer that the animal be returned to them instead of to another shelter or rescue.

Adopted animals often form strong bonds with their pet parents, so be sure that you can take on the commitment of caring for a special needs cat before adopting.


Aetiology, prevalence, and diagnosis of deafness in dogs and cats

Recruitment of the Auditory Cortex in Congenitally Deaf Cats by Long-Term Cochlear Electrostimulation

Auditory compensation for early blindness in cat cerebral cortex

The blind cat or cat with retinal disease

Cerebellar hypoplasia in three sibling cats after intrauterine or early postnatal parvovirus infection

A case of partial cerebellar hypoplasia in a cat.

Savannah Admire is a writer, editor, and pet parent to two dogs and a cat. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading, playing Animal Crossing, or being an obnoxious nerd about her favorite movies and TV shows. She lives in Maryland, where she constantly debates whether or not to get a third dog.

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