Caring for a pet is a fun and rewarding experience. You’ll be repaid for your efforts with years of loyalty and companionship. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy, though. A cat with special needs will require additional care and attention.
Felines cannot be diagnosed with autism or Down syndrome. They can show similar symptoms and experience learning or mental disabilities following trauma to the brain. Special needs apply to physical disability too, i.e., blindness, deafness or the loss of a limb.
Shelters find it difficult to find families for special needs cats which is heartbreaking. A cat with physical and learning difficulties is just as loving and worthy of a home as any other cat.
Signs That a Cat Has Special Needs
The symptoms of a cat with special needs will vary, depending on her struggle. Some cats are deemed to have special needs when they have certain medical, neurological conditions, and behavioral issues. A disabled cat will also have special needs.
The most common symptoms of a cat struggling with her mental faculties are as follows:
- Lack of short-term memory, such as forgetting the location of food and litter trays.
- A lack of basic physical coordination, including an unsteady gait.
- A glazed look in the eyes, as though not fully understanding events that unfold around her.
- A lack of response to a stimulus, whether this is human interaction or cat toys.
Beyond these, many other symptoms can manifest depending on the individual issue.
Can Cats Have Autism?
There is a book called All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome. Written by Kathy Hoopmann, the book humorously compares the behaviors of cats and autistic humans. There are more similarities than you may realize.
Can cats have Asperger’s? Not officially, but it can appear that way. Here are the symptoms associated with human autism and cats:
- Lack of interest in socializing. Autistic humans sometimes shun social gatherings, as they do not understand all social cues. If a cat isn’t in the mood for company, they’ll hide away.
- Obsession with particular items. Sometimes, a cat fixates on a specific toy or activity. In this, the feline can seem hyper-intelligent. Some things are just more interesting to cats than others.
- Not verbalizing. Autistic people can sometimes be very quiet. If your cat was previously chatty and suddenly stops vocalizing, see a vet. If she’s always been on the quiet side, then she’s contentedly silent by nature.
- Loathing change. Moving furniture without advance notice can send an autistic human into a tailspin. The same is true of cats, who become very stressed when things change.
- Struggling with sensory overload. Somebody with autism will struggle when there’s too much noise or visual stimulation. Cats similarly struggle with loud noises and strong smells due to their highly acute senses.
Many behaviors that we associate with autism can be attributed to cats being cats. See a vet if you’re concerned. The likelihood is that your cat is just particular about how she spends her time.
Can Cats Have ADHD?
As with many psychological conditions, it can be tough to differentiate ADHD from typical cat behavior. There are key symptoms, as Conscious Cat points out, but they apply to many felines. The symptoms of feline ADHD are widely accepted as being:
- Short, frantic bursts of energy – especially in senior cats that are otherwise sedentary.
- Only enjoying human interaction on their terms. An ADHD cat will gladly jump into your lap, but voraciously reject being handled.
- Mood swings are common. Purring can turn to biting and back again.
- Sleeping all day, saving up her energy to prowl and hunt by night.
- Enhanced levels of curiosity, to the point that your pet inserts herself into what you’re doing.
- Selective deafness. An ADHD cat will ignore being called in favor of finishing whatever she’s doing at the moment.
- A short, but hyper-focused attention span. Cats with ADHD will completely immerse themselves in an activity for a few minutes. They’ll then find something else to occupy them.
Officially, cats are not diagnosed with ADHD. The condition is acknowledged by experts, however. Sadly, data for potential treatment is still thin on the ground.
A cat should never be provided with human ADHD medication. As this study from the Veterinary Clinics of North America explains, even a small dose can be fatal.
Can Cats Have OCD?
It’s possible for a cat to struggle with OCD. This condition sees felines repeat in a behavior constantly, and seemingly without advantage.
Grooming is a common example. Some cats will clean themselves long beyond any point of benefit. More often than not, this is an attempt at managing anxiety, as cats groom to self-soothe.
However, a cat with OCD is also likely to verbalize excessively or wander without respite. Finally, a cat with OCD may be compelled to chew on non-food items.
If your cat’s OCD is not a mental disorder, it will be borne of stress. Has your pet’s routine changed in any way? This is a sure-fire way of causing anxiety to a feline.
If you have stopped your cat from roaming outdoors, OCD can be a reaction to confinement. Of course, providing attention to your cat when she displays OCD behaviors just encourages her.
If you suspect OCD in your cat, note the symptoms and speak to a vet. Based on this meeting, treatment will take the form of lifestyle changes or medication.
Can Cats Have Down Syndrome?
As PetHelpful explains, it is not technically possible for a cat to have Down syndrome.
This condition arises in humans when they have three sets of chromosome 21. This is one of 23 pairs of chromosomes in the human body. As cats have a total of 19 pairs of chromosomes, Down syndrome cannot be diagnosed.
Despite this, cats with special needs can be identified by physical characteristics. Humans with Down syndrome will typically be short in stature and have a distinct facial structure. Some of these features and characteristics are shared with cats with special needs.
Symptoms that leave people wondering if a cat has special needs include:
- Small or otherwise misshapen ears
- Eyes set further apart than the average feline
- A flat or upturned nose
- Difficulties with coordination and walking
- Heart issues
- General learning difficulty
Down syndrome is not something that impacts felines, so what causes their symptoms? Sometimes, it’s bad luck. More often, cats born with these issues are a result of inbreeding.
When a cat enters heat, she loses all sense of dignity. This is why it’s so crucial to have cats in a home spayed and neutered. Don’t think your pets will not mate because they are siblings, or parent and kitten. Cats will mate with their family members and genetic abnormalities can be the result.
This is not always the case. Some cats are just born with special needs, just like humans. All the same, if purchasing a cat from a breeder, ensure that they are reputable beforehand.
Other Neurological Problems in Cats
It’s possible for a previously healthy cat to get a cognitive illness. In some instances, this is a result of lifestyle changes or accidents. In others, it’s just a matter of age catching up with your pet.
Did you know, for example, that a cat can have depression? Geriatric cats will also often succumb to cognitive dysfunction or senility. Cats can also suffer permanent consequences from a stroke, or other forms of brain injury.
Cats can experience depression, though it’s different from that of a human. Whereas human depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, felines suffer through circumstance.
It can be surprisingly easy to depress a cat. Any change in routine can send them into an emotional tailspin. This could be something as innocuous as changing their kitty litter.
Substantial changes are likely to severely affect a cat. Bereavement is a significant factor in pet depression. If a cat loses a believed human owner or feline friend, they can become very depressed. Many sicknesses and ailments also leave cats depressed. The symptoms of feline depression are:
- A reluctance or refusal to eat
- Withdrawn behavior, and avoiding human interaction
- Mood swings and uncharacteristic aggression
- Eliminating outside the litter box
- Verbalizing to excess
- Excessive grooming, or a lack of self-care
Refusing to eat for more than 24 hours should be considered an emergency.
Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
As cats grow old, their brains age with them. This means that geriatric cats are likely to have issues with senility. This is known as feline cognitive dysfunction.
The Cornell Feline Health Center claims that FCD can strike a cat from the age of 10 onward. This is very young by 21st Century standards, where cats often live to twice that age. Thankfully, feline dementia is unlikely to take hold until a pet reaches 15 years. Even then, it can be managed.
All the same, it’s pivotal that any pet owner understands the symptoms of FCD. These include:
- General confusion, such as forgetting locations and not recognizing humans
- Growing very distressed and refusing to negotiate very basic obstacles
- Excessive verbalization, especially at night. Cats with FCD often sleep all day and become active after dark
- Staring into space for hours on end
- Ignoring humans completely, or demanding constant attention. Some cats with FCD will flip-flop between these two states
- Losing interest in grooming
- A slow and steady decrease in appetite
By the time your cat reaches double figures, she should be getting regular veterinary check-ups. It’s possible that your vet will pick up on warning signs of FCD during these check-ups. This is a good thing as early intervention can make a big difference.
FCD cannot be cured, but if diagnosed early, it can be slowed down with medication and lifestyle changes. Playing games, creating puzzles, and talking to your cat will slow their mind’s decline.
Stroke and Brain Injury
As VCA Hospitals explains, there are two types of brain injuries in felines. A primary brain injury is the result of direct, physical force. This could be a collision with a car, or a fall from a great height. A secondary brain injury, meanwhile, is a result of bleeding or swelling after the event itself.
A vet must review any head injury to a cat. Your vet will be able to run scans and assess the extent of the damage. If your cat has brain trauma, there is a chance they will not be the same.
Feline brain injuries often prove fatal. If a cat does survive, her cognitive function could be compromised. It will be hard to know how seriously your pet has been affected for six months.
Can Cats Live with Physical Disabilities?
A physically disabled cat does not necessarily have to be an unhappy cat. Felines are remarkably adaptable. Many pets will continue with their daily routines despite the difficulty.
Responsibility will be placed on you as your cat’s guardian. You will need to ensure that your pet’s disability does not become a barrier.
Caring for a Blind Cat
Blindness is arguably the most common physical disability in felines. Many senior cats start to struggle with their eyesight over time. Similarly, many diseases and infections can also rob felines of their vision. Thankfully, this is also the sense that your cat can function best without.
Most cats rely more on their ears and nose than their eyes. This means that a blind cat can adapt. You’ll need to make some allowances for your pet’s condition.
This means ensuring that your cat has a clear path to her food, water, and litter trays. Remove any obstacles that could be in her way, and avoid leaving anything on the floor.
You’ll also have to be careful not to startle your cat. If you sneak up on a blind cat, she may bite or scratch out of panic. Announce your presence to a blind cat before you approach.
Jangling a set of keys upon entering a room is the easiest way to do this. This noise will capture your cat’s attention, so she’ll know that you’re nearby.
They will then pick up your scent, confirming who is in the room. Finally, a cat will listen to your footsteps and gain an understanding of where you are.
Most blind cats live happy, full lives. The only caveat is that you’ll need to keep them inside. The outside world is far too dangerous for a blind cat.
Caring for a Deaf Cat
A cat that loses her hearing will need a little more TLC. Cats rely on their ears. With some suitable adjustments, a deaf cat can still be happy and contented.
The first thing that you’ll notice about a deaf feline is that she sleeps very deeply. This is because your pet is not remaining aware of her surroundings, ready to react.
If she can’t hear what is happening around her, then she won’t know. It’s always dangerous to wake up a cat, so leave your pet to her slumber.
In addition to this, similar to blindness, you should never sneak up on a deaf cat. Obviously, she will not hear you coming, so noise will not help. Instead, flick lights on and off as you enter a room.
This will attract her attention. Deaf cats also feel vibrations, so don’t be shy about taking heavy footsteps across the room. This will be the next best thing to hearing you walk for your pet.
Many cats lose their hearing as they age. White cats with blue eyes often struggle with inherited deafness from birth. According to International Cat Care explains, this only applies to 2% of the feline population. Having said that, up to 80% of blue-eyed white cats are born deaf. This is due to the gene that gives the feline their striking fur.
If purchasing a white cat from a breeder, ask for the results of their BAER test. This is a non-invasive test that all white-furred kittens should undertake to check their hearing. If the breeder has not taken the cat for testing, consider reporting them to the ASPCA.
While not compulsory, BAER testing is highly recommended for such felines. If the breeder is failing to follow this guideline, they may be mistreating the cats in other ways. It is forbidden by law to breed from a deaf cat with white fur and blue eyes, for example.
Caring for a Cat That Has Lost a Limb
Some cats are forced to lose one or more of their legs. This is usually a result of an impact injury, when a fracture cannot be repaired. Sometimes, disease and infection cause the muscle in a leg to waste away. This leaves amputation as the only option.
Once your cat comes to terms with her status, she’ll adjust to living life on three legs. Felines are very adaptable and can move freely once they learn how to walk without a limb.
You’ll just need to be patient and remain by their side initially. It may take a cat a while to regain their trademark grace following an amputation.
If your cat’s leg has been removed, it would have been causing your pet significant pain. You will likely find that your cat is happier following the procedure as a result.
A cat with special needs is just as capable of giving love and affection, and thus need it in return. This makes it saddening that so many shelters struggle to home cats with special needs.
Caring for such a pet is not for everybody. You’ll need bags of patience and plenty of available time. The rewards will be substantial, however. If you have the appropriate skills and lifestyle, a cat with special needs can become a life-changing companion.