Having a family pet can be such a good idea for so many reasons. Many people choose to adopt one or more pets as additional family members of the home, taking them on vacations and treating them just like any other member of the house. In other cases, a friendly household pet can be just the thing to teach young children responsibility when it comes to taking care of others. Whatever the motivation might be, most homes have at least one pet that they love dearly.
Depending on your lifestyle and home-life in general, not all pets might make good choices for your home. For families with special needs children or other family members, it is important to consider how any pet might affect them – in both positive and negative ways. Because of this, doing your research is essential in making the right choice. I’ve gone ahead and started the process for you, and will walk you through below what types of pets you might want to consider and what concerns you should have when making your selection.
Broader Considerations to Make for Any Pet
Consider the Pet’s Level of Maintenance
For homes of those with special needs, the day-to-day grind can be a lot more difficult than in other homes. Whether your child has autism, your grandfather has dementia or your spouse suffers from blindness, this can require a lot more time and dedication to do even the most basic things. When considering these challenges, you definitely want to also consider how much maintenance a new pet to the home might require.
Let’s face it: some pets are easier to take care of than others. Likewise, some pets may offer more benefits to those with special needs than others. Striking a delicate balance between these two variables is essential if you want to get the most out of your newest addition to the home. If you don’t necessarily have an hour each day to give a particular pet the attention it needs, then it may be a better idea to opt for pets that require less maintenance and attention.
Be Aware of the Pet’s Natural Aggression
For homes with vulnerable residents or young children, it’s important to avoid any situations where injury could become more likely due to a pet. Some special needs case may lead to young children behaving in ways that could elicit an aggressive reaction from one particular pet or another, which is the last thing you need.
One Baton Rouge attorney noted that in his line of personal injury work, animal bites are the most common type of case he handles. While it’s highly unlikely you’ll be facing any litigation from a pet injury in the home, you obviously don’t want anybody to be harmed, and you don’t want to deal with expensive medical costs because of a pet injury.
Research the Therapeutic Value
Especially for those with special needs, a household pet can be a great way to break through various barriers and create a more pleasant atmosphere for those who are struggling. I’ve seen companion dogs and cats in nursing homes, for instance, that help provide residents with a bit of happiness, affection and attention in otherwise difficult times. Sometimes, that can make a world of difference.
For those who may have difficulties communicating or who have behavioral issues, a household pet can perhaps spark a change in mood and attitude. In many cases, people opt for the standard dog or cat when it comes to therapeutic value provided by the pet’s presence. It’s probably not a good idea to bring a pet such as a snake or a gerbil into the home for this particular reason, as the benefits are likely to be minimal.
Weigh Potential Negative Reactions
Not all pets are ideal for homes with special needs residents, and even pets that make great companions may not be ideal for some individual homes.
One common example is autism. Many children suffering from autism have difficulty thriving in environments where sensory overload is possible (many pets suffer from sensory overload as well). Perhaps the most common example of a conflict point in this situation is sound. A pet that is rather loud and/or consistently making noises may not be the ideal choice here, as it can possibly cause the child to lash out or otherwise react negatively to the pet’s presence.
Another condition you’ll want to consider is physical and/or medical issues. Some pets may be prone to inducing allergies or posing a risk to the immune systems of individuals. If the special needs person in your home struggles with a variety of allergies or immune system reactions, you’ll want to carefully consider the effects that any particular pet can have on them.
The Pros and Cons of Common Companion Pets
Now that you are aware of the primary concerns you should weigh before bringing any new pet into a special needs home, I want to walk you through some specific considerations for the most common household pets. Hopefully, this will help make the decision-making process easier for you!
Many households have at least one cat as a pet. Everybody is familiar with cats and they can be a cute addition to any home. Many special needs places use cats as a therapy animal of sorts, providing light companionship to those who are struggling with both physical and mental ailments.
The great thing about cats is that they are relatively easy to care for and clean up after. In addition, they are quiet animals for the most part, meaning they won’t be keeping you awake at night or constantly making noises.
On the downside, cats can be temperamental and their affection is conditional depending on their mood. This can be a point of conflict in some special needs cases, as a cat can become quite aggressive when it wants to be alone and is prevented from doing so. They also spend the majority of their time sleeping, which means that they are not necessarily a full-time companion pet.
Considered the ideal companion pet by many, dogs are naturally social and generally have good temperaments. Dogs can come in all shapes and sizes, making it easy to find a breed that is ideal for both the size of your home and the size of the person(s) who’d benefit from their presence.
Dogs are considerably more expensive to care for than cats, but they also provide full-time companionship. They enjoy being active and will be able to interact with special needs individuals throughout the entire day.
Some disadvantages of having one or more dogs as a companion pet include the time commitment (they require much more attention than cats), potential allergic reactions they might cause, and a tendency to be noisy in certain situations.
There are many potential pets in the family of what I like to call “social rodents”: animals such as guinea pigs, hamsters and even ferrets (though ferrets aren’t technically rodents). These creatures are smaller, easier to care for and require minimal financial investment.
These pets are social and can make great companions for those with special needs. Their furriness and cute factor makes them perfect for young children. Maintaining their food, water and playing areas is a lot more affordable than taking care of the average cat or dog.
However, some disadvantages do exist. For starters, many of these pets will need to have their cages or sleeping/feeding areas cleaned daily. Others may find themselves more active during night-time, making them potentially noisy or less likely to play during the day. Last but not least, small, easily injured pets may pose a potential risk in the home in the hands of certain special needs children.
For those seeking a minimally-invasive, easy-to-care-for pet, I recommend looking at one of the many aquatic varieties of fish or reptiles. These animals can be great for those who benefit from sensory stimulation and require almost no persistent maintenance other than feeding.
One of the downsides to having aquatic pets is that most of them cannot be held or taken outside of their tanks. This makes it hard for them to serve as companion pets in a legitimate bonding sense. However, there are options for certain semi-aquatic pets (like turtles) that can be removed from their aquatic environments for periods of time.
Last but not least, you may be thinking about certain feathered friends as a great pet for your special needs home. Ultimately, birds can be a good balance for those seeking a new pet, but they won’t be right for every home.
Most birds are very social, making them a great choice for those who need companionship on a consistent basis. They can be trained to behave in a variety of situations and some can even learn to speak! In the case of a number of smaller birds, maintenance in terms of cost is relatively small.
For those who have sensory issues, though, birds may be a bad choice: their tendency to chirp, squawk and make noise can be difficult for some to handle. Some birds also have a tendency to bite or otherwise potentially injure their caretakers, making it a risk worth considering. Their tendency to make a “mess” – both inside and outside of their cages – is also another concern worth pondering.
Let us know in the comments what concerns you have about a pet in your special needs home, and whether or not any of these choices would be right for you!