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 particular attention.
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.
- 1 Signs That a Cat Has Special Needs
- 2 Other Neurological Problems in Cats
- 3 Can Cats Live with Physical Disabilities?
Signs That a Cat Has Special Needs
The symptoms of a cat with special needs will vary, depending on their 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 their 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 them.
- 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, no. As mentioned, however, it can appear that way. Let’s take a look at the many 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 they’ve always been on the quiet side, they’re 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 with too much noise, or visual stimulation. Cats similarly struggle with loud noises and strong smells due to their highly acute senses.
As you’ll see, many behaviors that we associate with autism can be attributed to cats being cats. By all means, see a vet if you’re concerned. The likelihood is, however, that your cat is just particular about how they spend their 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 with no rhyme or reason.
- Sleeping all day, saving up their energy to prowl and hunt by night.
- Enhanced levels of curiosity, to the point that your pet inserts themselves into whatever you’re doing.
- Selective deafness. An ADHD cat will ignore being called in favor of finishing whatever they’re 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 their hearts and minds.
Officially, cats are not diagnosed with ADHD. The condition is acknowledged by experts, however. Sadly, data for potential treatments are still thin on the ground.
One thing is certain, though – 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 they display OCD behaviors just encourages them.
If you suspect OCD in your cat, note the symptoms and speak to a vet. A professional will be able to assess your cat’s actions, and run tests.
Based on this meeting, treatment will take the form of lifestyle changes or medication. It all depends on what your vet considers the root cause of the OCD to be.
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 abnormalities 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, however, cats born with these issues are a result of inbreeding.
When a cat enters heat, they lose 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.
Allow us to reiterate – 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 they are reputable beforehand. While there is nothing wrong with a cat that has special needs
Other Neurological Problems in Cats
It’s possible for a previously healthy cat to be struck down by 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 could struggle with 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 suffer from 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, however, are likely to severely impact upon 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 common 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
As you can see, some of these are very dangerous. Refusing to eat for more than 24 hours, in particular, should be considered an emergency. See a vet as soon as you suspect that your cat is depressed. They will be able to get to the bottom of the issue.
Feline Cognitive Dysfunction
Sadly, 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 patent 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, they should be attending regular veterinary check-ups. This way, your vet can run routine tests and ensure that everything is in order.
It’s possible that your vet will pick up on warning signs of FCD during these check-ups. This is a good thing – early intervention can make a big difference.
FCD cannot be cured, but if captured early, it can be slowed down with medication and lifestyle changes. If your vet suspects that your cat’s cognitive function is slowing down, keep their mind active. Playing games, creating puzzles and even just 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 for 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 immediately review any head injury to a cat. Do not wait and see – get them investigated as quickly as possible. Your vet will be able to run scans, and assess the extent of the damage. If your cat suffers from brain trauma, there is a chance they will not be the same.
Sadly, feline brain injuries prove fatal more often than not. If a cat does survive, their cognitive function could be severely compromised. It will be hard to know how seriously your pet has been impacted for six months. Stay in constant contact with your vet throughout this time, and observe your cat.
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 quite happily continue about their daily routines despite the difficulty.
A sizable amount of responsibility will be placed upon you, however, as your cat’s guardian. You will need to ensure that your pet’s disability does not become a barrier. Never be shy about seeking professional advice to help with this.
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 their food, water, and litter trays. Remove any obstacles that could be in their 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 bind cat, they 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 they’ll know 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 perfectly 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 their hearing will need a little more TLC. Cats rely very strongly on their ears. With some suitable adjustments, however, a deaf cat can still be perfectly happy.
The first thing that you’ll notice about a deaf feline is that they sleep very deeply. This is because your pet is not remaining aware of their surroundings, ready to react.
If they can’t hear what is happening around them, they won’t know. It’s always dangerous to wake up a cat, so leave your pet to their slumber.
In addition to this, similar to blindness, you should never sneak up on a deaf cat. Obviously, they will not hear you coming, so noise will not help. Instead, flick lights on and off as you enter a room.
This will attract their 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, however, 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 even more – of their legs. This is usually a result of an impact injury, when a fracture cannot be repaired. Sometimes, however, 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 their status, they’ll be quite happy 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.
Despite this, try not to think of a cat that has undergone amputation as a victim. They may be disabled, but they’ll likely be far sprightlier. Amputation is not a decision vets take lightly.
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 that – special. They are just as capable of giving love and affection, and thus need it in return. This makes it hugely saddening that so many shelters struggle to home cats with special needs.
We’ll be clear – 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.