Dog Daycare for Special Need Pets

The most difficult part of taking care of a dog needing assistance constantly is finding respite care. Many kennels just will not take a handicapped dog. Care of a disabled dog can be a demanding 24/7 experience but in spite of this, more than ever owners are finding it rewarding! And no one appreciates it more than the handicapped pet - who are often the most loving, appreciative patients possible. Respite care for dedicated owners is essential; and finding the right person to provide this service forces most pet owners to think creatively.

How do find respite care for a disabled dog?

Respite care is short-term assistance for a disabled person or pet that gives the primary caregiver a break from his or her duties. It is not a luxury; it is a necessity. It gives the caretakers a break, so they can continue to feel good about taking care of their handicapped pet. It can allow the caretakers to go on vacation and not worry about what is happening with their beloved pet. While respite care for people has been around awhile, the concept for a disabled pet is relatively new. It takes some creative thinking to find a person with the skills to help. Sometimes a family member or friend can fill the void, but often the care is daunting to someone inexperienced with taking care of a dog in a wheelchair, or requires regular bladder emptying. Dogs that have missing limbs, paraplegic dogs, elderly dogs with medical problems, dogs with limited mobility, epileptic dogs, even shy dogs and aggressive dogs can be challenging to find options for temporary pet care.

Where to look for temporary foster care for a disabled dog:

  • Sometimes Veterinary technicians are willing to take on this extra work either at home or with the blessings of their Veterinarian.
  • Boarding at your Vet's facility is also an option.
  • Licensed pet sitters may also be a solution - ideally you'll want one that understands your dog's disability and can work with your instruction.
  • Websites such as can provide the names of potential sitters (always check them out!)
  • Check the Internet for veterinary hospice care companies, some may supply in-home medical respite care
  • Exchange care with another caregiver of a special-needs pet
  • Local rescues may be willing to give a referral to their most reliable foster families
  • If it is just a matter of mobility and your pet is healthy otherwise (just uses a wheelchair and not too many meds), daycare may still be an option - contact them and ask!
  • Family - sometimes they know your dog best and someone may just love your dog enough to take on this difficult task.
  • Dog breeders are usually not afraid of unusual circumstances - if you know of one that has yours or a similarly sized breed, it can't hurt to ask.
  • Groomers may know of someone that can provide respite care...just make sure they know this is not a normal pet sit situation.
  • Always allow time for a trial run to make sure he or she is a good match for you and your pet.

Always allow for a trial period which will give the handicapped pet owner the opportunity to be sure the individual can perform all of the necessary duties. More importantly, it also provides the opportunity to see if your dog likes his new doggie caregiver and can get along with resident pets.. Prepare a list of medications, when they are given, how often to change bedding, and the dog's basic routine. Always leave extra supplies so the caregiver doesn't have to go looking for them. You'll want someone that can 'go with the flow' as much as possible. Disabled dogs have had a lot of adapting to do just to adjust to their disability, so the more you can keep their routine the same, the better. Many dogs will feel panicky when you aren't around, so it's important to get a caregiver your dog feels happy with and can relax with.

If it works out, you can take longer respites. Make sure the pet caregiver has all of your important veterinary info in case problems develop while you are away. And don't be too demanding - it's hard enough to take care of someone else's pet, but a disabled pet is a LOT more work!

In Home Care for a Handicapped Pet or Other Facility?

Often the choice is do I have someone pet sit IN my house, or take the dog to another facility such as my veterinary hospital or boarding kennel?  I would suggest, particularly for an elderly or very ill dog, the in home option is probably best in most cases.  Unless the dog has spent a lot of time in a group situation it can be extremely stressful.  Kennels and vet hospitals are typically noisy and busy, not allowing a sick or handicapped dog to get the rest it needs.   You will have to weigh getting an experienced pet caregiver (veterinarian, vet tech, boarding facility) versus possibly inexperienced help you must train to your dog's specific problems.  In home can be daunting as well, because unlike a healthy dog - it probably won't work for the sitter to show up 3-4 or 5 times a day just to let the dog out to potty.  Someone will have to basically live in your home for the duration (unless they are just a few houses away) because you do not want your handicapped pet sitting in one position for long periods causing bedsores, getting urine burns from sitting in pee, or just stiff from lack of movement.  A healthy dog home alone moves around - this isn't always an option for a handicapped pet. A second possibility somewhere between being in their own home and vet office is to spend the time at a relative, friend or that wonderful vet tech that is willing to care for your incontinent and immobile dog.  This will be stressful for your disabled dog as well, but a family atmosphere is still better than an institutional one. Give it some thought, you know your dog best and know what will traumatize him least. Make sure you give your sitter lots of praise and reward generously!  It's difficult to watch someone else's' dog anyway, but there is a lot of physical work in caring for a handicapped dog - lifting, coaxing, dealing with fear issues, dealing with crying or loneliness requiring extra attention. 

Can I take my handicapped dog on vacation?

Respite care doesn't only mean for you only or from the paralyzed dog.  Sometimes you both need to get away - and sometimes together is just the ticket!  With some planning ahead it is absolutely do-able.  We spent a week touring Michigan's Upper Peninsula (which is very dog friendly) with our Hoover who had no use of his back legs - and without a wheelchair.  So it can be done.  We made sure the hotel was dog friendly we wanted to use, put plastic on the carpet to prevent accidents and used a sling to help him 'walk'.  He enjoyed sitting by the lake, running (with help) in the sand dunes, and traveling in general.  It CAN be done.  People generally are very accepting and curious about a dog in a wheelchair.  You might even both make new friends!

It will be hard to leave your very dependent pet, especially an elderly one, but consider it for your welfare as well! I love web cams because I can check on the pet remotely if the sitter comes to the house or stays with the pet - you'll know exactly what is going on.