Many people, myself included, say they don’t have the time or finances to invite a special-needs cat into their lives. Because I travel a lot and hate being tied down, it would be difficult to have a cat that required daily intensive care. Our two-story house with its plank flooring might be difficult for a mobility-restricted cat to navigate. So does that mean I would never live with a special needs cat? Of course not. Because if you live with a cat long enough, chances are pretty good she will eventually become a special needs cat — don’t most geriatric cats require special care?
It’s time to rethink and redefine special needs. A special needs cat is not necessarily a cat missing an eye or a leg. In fact, “less than perfect” kitties such as these often don’t require any special treatment at all and get around as easily as any cat with all her limbs and both eyes. On the other hand, sometimes special needs can’t be seen. Inflammatory Bowel Disease kitties may look like any other cat, but they often require special diets, medication, run up loads of veterinary bills, and are often so picky about what they eat that mealtime quickly becomes an exercise in frustration.
There are also different levels of special needs. Take cats with cerebellar hypoplasia, for example. The part of the brain in these cats that controls fine motor skills is underdeveloped, and the cats have problems walking and balancing. This is mild in some CH cats, and more severe in others — but they are all able to have a great quality of life. In fact, one CH cat I know, a pretty calico named Sophie, travels places with her family, walks (although a bit unsteadily) on a harness, and even attended a blogging conference last May, trekking from her home in Macon, Ga., to Nashville. You wouldn’t even know there was anything different about her (aside from being prettier than your average cat) until she stood up to walk. Sophie, who has a mild-to-moderate case of CH, occasionally makes messes and needs to be cleaned up, and prefers a litter box with high sides to lean against. This is a small price to pay for such a sweet, friendly cat.
Then you have the cat who becomes special-needs as she ages. I’ve had two cats who developed Chronic Kidney Disease as seniors, and one who had cancer. Caring for these cats took a lot of time, a learning curve and a lot of love. But isn’t it often that way when a family member approaches the end of life? During the last couple years of two of these cats’ lives, I couldn’t travel at all, because I needed to be there for them. Sparkle, one of my CRF cats, had to be spoon-fed and needed fluids. A couple of times, before she got really sick, I had trips planned that I had to abort at the last minute because Sparkle needed me more. Those end times with Sparkle, and the other cats, weren’t easy, but I just carried on … because that’s what you do.
So when you hear the term “special needs cat,” and you picture a paraplegic cat, a cat maimed from an accident, or a cat living with a horrible birth defect, you need to broaden your definition. If you’ve spent years living with cats, you may have had a special-needs cat without thinking twice about it. And once you begin to realize what you’ve lovingly put into the feline family members of your life, no matter what, maybe you’ll stop thinking about “needs,” and realize that, in the long run, there’s only “special.”