At Rafiki's Rescue, we specialize in the special needs and critical cases that most would find "undesirable." Special needs animals come in all shapes and forms and the conditions & care routines vary greatly & individually. Simply put, a special needs animal is just one that needs a little alternative care or lives life a little differently than your average one. Most of these conditions do not deter them or hold them back from living life to the fullest, they simply make them a little more unique! Some conditions may require a bit more tentative or involved care, but for the most part we prefer the term "alternative care," as the majority don't require any "extra" attention at all - just alterations in their daily care routines & environment. In this section we will list and describe the types of common special needs conditions as well as the more uncommon ones we have encountered and what exactly it may mean for the effected pet.
In the end, special needs animals have so much to give back to the world and their unconditional love, zest for life, and unmatched resilience is truly something to behold. They are not lacking, but the world might be until it learns to see the beauty in their differences. That is exactly what we are here to aid them in doing - show the world that they are unstoppable!
What is Special Needs?
Despite what you would otherwise think, blind cats and kittens get around in life just as well as every other cat! Their other senses are so highly adept and they rely on these senses to understand their surroundings far better than we would think. More often than not, you would never know they were blind if it weren't otherwise obvious!
It is preferred that blind cats live in a stable home environment where furniture rearrangement is done mindfully. Kitty friends are also a great source of stability to have in their lives! Blind cats often form very strong bonds with their humans & animal friends as they become a large source of comfort and familiarity to them. Rest assured they will play, eat, cuddle, and live life to the fullest just as every other cat would! Blind kitties make the best kitties and are a wonderful introduction into "special needs" pets!
Some kittens are born with congenital birth defects that can play a major role in the rest of their lives, but it certainly does not diminish them. Some of these include deformities of limbs, spine, or other varying parts of their body. In Bindi's case, pictured in this photo, she has a condition called "Tibial Hemimelia," meaning she was born without tibias. This condition left her with little to no use of her back legs. Instead, she walks on her front two!
Cats are amazingly resilient and adaptable. Most of these conditions can still allow them to live long, happy lives. Bindi learned to walk using only her front two legs and lifts up her back end as she walks. This condition has not stopped Bindi from being an outgoing and affectionate kitten and she has no problem using the litter box (with an accessible box), climbing up into bed, or even reaching the very tippy top of the cat tree! We just have to be a little more cautious of any high falls because the condition certainly does not make her any less daring than your average kitten! Little known fact, another word for "resilience" is "Cat!" :D
Congenital deformities vary with each cat and it is important to adjust their care according to their unique condition and individual needs. In Bindi's case, we will have to look out for arthritis in her older age and it's a great idea to incorporate supplemental care in their diet to help promote bone health & longevity. Other than this, she is a perfectly imperfect kitty! (Make sure to also check out Lord Theodore Willis III under "Long Term Residents" for another example of congenital defects & unstoppable kitties!
Paralysis can be congenital or can be result of an injury. Often times this can be difficult to entirely decipher without conducting an MRI, but in most cases, the cause will not alter the care moving forward. For Turkey, his paralysis is only partial and, while he does have some use of his back legs, he can not stand up on them to walk. He instead drags his legs behind him - but is fast as lightening as he goes! It is also important to know that the majority of paralysis cases have to be manually expressed to fully eliminate both urine and bowels multiple times a day. Sometimes, it can appear to the untrained eye that they are eliminating on their own when they are not. Due to the emergency that is a urinary blockage, if you find a paralyzed animal it is important to acquire immediate veterinary care to ensure that this is not the case. ***Leaking does not equate to ability to urinate on their own***
If they can eliminate on their own, their care will require tentative diaper changes, daily baths, and round the clock care to ensure their health and cleanliness.
Paralysis cases are certainly some of the most involved special needs cases due to their round the clock care & hygiene importance. However, it is not as daunting as it may seem. It certainly calls for some life alterations, but quickly becomes second nature. We often compare the time and care of a paralyzed cat to the needs of a young dog or maturing puppy. Good news - no litter box! Diaper changes and manual expressions take less time in the day than walking the family pup. Not being able to use their back legs does not make their lives any less fulfilling or deserved. Turkey is a happy kitty who plays and climbs extraordinarily well, despite his setbacks. He is full of SO much love and life and his routine is a very normal and easy part of his every day for him. A few moments 3 times a day and then he is racing off to rejoin his friends!
Paralysis is not for everyone as their care is certainly more intricate and biannual urinalysis, yearly assessments, & watch for arthritis with your vet are important, but those who care for cats such as these will see just how gifted a life they live and, in return, gain the most rewarding love & bond with their kitty.
F I V
While some may not consider FIV kitties truly special needs, we feel it was still worth the honorable mention because they can be just as overlooked as these other special kitties. FIV, or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is very similar to the human HIV and compromises the infected cats immune system. These cats still live full, healthy lives if given the right, precautionary care. A high quality diet, immune boosters, and supplements go a very long way keeping them healthy. An indoor only lifestyle is a must to prevent exposure to any illness that may be more challenging for them to overcome. In most cases, this virus can be managed very easily though proper care & routine veterinary! Despite older popular belief, FIV positive cats can also live very safely with other, non-aggressive cats. FIV is transmitted almost exclusively through unaltered, stray cat, territorial fighting that results in deep bite wounds. Not those from your every day, indoor cat, play fighting. In Rocky's case, he was found in rough shape living unaltered on the streets. Now that he is safe and cared for, he lives happily and healthy inside and loves his kitty friends now that he is altered with no need to fend for himself on the streets.
Hydrocephalus is a build up of fluid in the cavities deep within the brain and can cause the head to become enlarged as well as cause varying neurological symptoms. This is a very serious condition that requires advanced lifelong care and veterinary resources to maintain. If treated properly, these cats can still live loving, fulfilling lives! However, it is a very sensitive condition that requires very attentive care. Expensive tests such as CTs and MRIs are frequently run throughout a hydro kitties' life and often times a shunt will need to be surgically placed. The fluid will have to be properly managed using a variety of medical veterinary procedures as well as daily medications such as a diuretic. Hydrocephalus cases are very rare and very involved, but we still feel it is important to spread the knowledge of these cases so that they can be properly funded when needed in order to ensure these cats and kittens the best chance they could possibly have. SHAHS is an amazing nonprofit organization that specializes in these cases and offers a plethora of knowledge and resources!
***This page is a work in Progress! More Coming Soon***