Special Needs Cats Safe and Comfy
by Brooke Billingsley
Bringing a new pet home can be exciting and overwhelming. Sometimes you plan for it and are prepared, and other times a pet seems to just fall into your lap and you just make things work. Some people, though, end up bringing home a pet with special needs, and that in and of itself can be daunting. You may not know what exactly they need when you take them home, but you learn as you go and we all work to give our pets the best lives possible. But what do you do when you have a special needs pet and you realize there is a need, but you aren’t sure how to fill it?
Today I’m going to talk about some considerations within the home for pets with different types of special needs. I reached out to members of the Facebook groups This creature is W O B B L Y, THIS CAT IS W O N K Y, and Cerebellar Hypoplasia Cats and Kittens, to see what different people do for their special needs pets to keep them safe, fed, and enriched. While some needs are met with commercial products, having a special needs pet may help bring out creativity you didn’t know you had.
Feeding Time For Special Needs Cats
Most pets appreciate a routine, especially when it comes to meal times, but routine timing and location can be especially beneficial to special needs pets. Many wobbly animals may have difficulty with meal times. EZPZ (@ezpzfun) bowls are well-loved within the CH cat community for their anti-slip grip, soft sides to prevent injuries to the face and teeth, and easy clean-up. EZPZs are relatively costly, around $20 for a small bowl, but you can make something similar, depending on your pets needs, with a silicone or soft plastic bowl with an anti-slip cutting board or mat attached to the bottom of it. Hot glue dots or anti-slip furniture dots can be added for additional grip.
These can be made from just about any material and it is simply a narrow “stall” to help the pet stay upright while eating.
Another useful item for wobbly pets, especially those with cerebellar hypoplasia, cerebellar ataxia, and similar conditions, is a feeding stall. These can be made from just about any material and it is simply a narrow “stall” to help the pet stay upright while eating. I have seen these made from plastic, cardboard, wood, fabric, you name it. You may still need to provide some assistance, but this will help increase balance, safety, and your pet’s confidence.
Meal times for blind pets can be difficult, even for those with increased non-visual senses. Textures marking feeding areas can be beneficial, such as placing carpet squares or plastic bath mats around feeding or water areas to help reinforce to the pet what that area is for, even when food is not down. It may also be necessary to have an enclosed feeding space, such as a pack and play or small tent, for pets with various types of special needs.
Many of these ideas can be used for water as well. For pets with blindness or low vision, water fountains can help them find water by sound without stepping in it. When it comes down to it, all some special needs pets will need is just your helping hands and patience.
We have found that puzzle toys involving high-value treats, like fresh cooked meat, keep his interest
Playtime for Special Needs Cats
Special needs exist across a large spectrum, and we all know pets personalities vary wildly, even within species, so playtime can take a lot of forms. For my own wobbly cat, Aslan, he is food motivated and rarely takes an interest in toys. We have found that puzzle toys involving high-value treats, like fresh cooked meat, keep his interest, take him time to solve, keep his brain busy, give him a valuable payoff for effort, and improve his strength. Many pets will appreciate the same types of toys and games that “normal” pets appreciate, but you may have to work with your pet to find a play style that works for them and for you.
Toys for Special Needs Cats
For small animals with special needs, a baby play mat can be a safe and fun play space. The mat signals a blind cat it’s leaving the play area when he steps off the mat and feels the floor.
Or, you may just have a cat that likes crinkled up balls of paper, and that’s ok too. Various toys may help a blind or deaf cat by making noises, having a smell, or flashing lights.
Just like playtime, potty time is going to vary significantly based on what the cat’s needs are. Cats may have multiple needs and issues when it comes to litter box use.
Some cats will not use the box. It may be necessary to use potty pads or indoor grass. Cats can be choosey, so you may have to try multiple options. You also may need to play around with different types of litter boxes.
Aslan pees over the side of just about every box we’ve ever tried for him. High side boxes just end up with litter kicked over the sides. What we found that worked for us is the dome shaped litter boxes with interior stairs leading into the box. The stairs help prevent urine and litter from making it to the floor. Entering and exiting a box like this requires some coordination. A cat more wobbly than Aslan, or a cat with mobility issues may require an open box.
Stairs for special needs cats
A high-sided box is just begging for steps. Stairs can be just about anything you want or need them to be. I have even seen non-slip spice racks used as stairs into litter boxes. Different textures leading to or around potty areas are useful in guiding blind animals or animals with cognitive changes.
Make sure to keep the textures for potty areas different enough from food areas to not create further confusion. Keep in mind when it comes to litter boxes you can use most anything. Use your imagination when it comes to finding or creating the perfect litter box for your pet.
Bedtime routines can be as different as every pet in your house. For unstable pets who like to sleep in your bed, stairs or a ramp will make a huge difference. Some pets may require these surfaces to be carpeted or textured to prevent slipping. Blind pets benefit from minimal change in their environment, so keep bedding, feeding and play areas at the same location. Pets with anxiety may enjoy an article of your clothing in or near their bed for reassurance. Pets with low vision may require nightlights or other types of lighting throughout the night to help them stay oriented.
Other considerations may be taken for special needs cats who like to sleep on top of objects, like tables, but are prone to falling. A friend sent me a picture of an end table in her living room. She zip-tied a pool noodle to it and covered it with a blanket.
This essentially created a high bolster bed to allow her wobbly cat to relax on the table without risking falling. Pets with poor balance may need your help to get into bed. Animals, much like people need to be on a regular daily routine. Feed them at the same time every day.
Safety For Special Needs Cats
Of all the categories discussed so far, this may be the broadest category. I will try to touch on the high points. As previously mentioned, blind pets can benefit from various textures. Someone I spoke with talked about the different types of textures they would have around the house for blind foster pets. This includes rugs to mark certain locations within the home, such as exits and entrances and locations that required stepping up/down. We also discussed laying cardboard and using a box cutter to cut “tracks” into the cardboard to mark walkways to specific locations such as rooms with food and water.
Many people talked about using mesh, screens, or chicken wire on balconies and banisters to prevent accidental falls. Commercial items that can be used to create a safe environment include bumpers, cabinet locks, and baby gates. Pool noodles can be cut open and cut to cover edges and corners to prevent injuries. Pack and plays or small tents, such as children’s play tents, work well for a special needs pet that needs to be confined for safety.
It’s all about balance
One woman I spoke with has a cat with severe CH named Taz. He has a bed, food and water bowls. There is a low litter box in a children’s pack and play so he can stay safe and have all of his needs met whenever his fur mom is away from home. Non-slip rugs, yoga mats, and soft floor puzzle mats can all be used with special needs pets. I have a front tripawd dog with two bad knees, so preventing slips and falls is important in our house.
We have put down multiple rugs to help her maintain balance. Puzzle piece mats between her bed and the water bowl help her get to and from. Safety needs vary depending on the pet’s needs and the home environment. Work to remedy identified risks prior to bringing your special needs pet home. You may even get your pet home and realize you’ve done more than necessary. But at least you will have peace of mind knowing your pet is safe.
This has been a very broad overview of enriching the environment for your special needs pets. Every animal is different, so do your best to identify what you can do to meet your pets needs.
I strongly encourage anyone looking to bring home a pet with special needs to find a network of like people with pets for a support system. I am always happy to answer questions about special needs pets.