A close-up of a dog standing behind a chain link fence.

Of the 7.3 million dogs and cats that enter U.S. shelters each year, those with chronic health issues are at a distinct disadvantage. Among those considered “less adoptable,” these pets can take four times longer than average adoptable pets to find a home, according to research by Petfinder.com. For some dogs and cats, the wait is more than two years.

And that’s a shame, because pets with chronic illness have lots of love to offer. Thinking about pet adoption? Here’s why you should consider a special-needs pet.

It Could Literally Save a Life

While about 2.7 million animals are adopted from shelters each year, about the same number are euthanized, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Despite the growth in no-kill shelters and rescue organizations, pets with chronic diseases may be overlooked and ultimately put to sleep because crowded facilities simply cannot afford to keep them all.

By adopting a special-needs pet, you could give that dog or cat years of life it may not have had otherwise.

Many Chronic Diseases Are Manageable

Just because a health condition can’t be cured doesn’t mean pets can’t live with it for years. Take arthritis, for example. With weight and pain management and regular, low-impact exercise under the guidance of a veterinarian, pets can live long, happy lives.

Cats with feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus often have many good years ahead of them. Since they can be contagious to other cats, they’re perfect for single-cat families who will keep them indoors.

Other chronic conditions such as kidney disease, thyroid disease and allergies can often be managed with nutrition and/or medications. Even chronic behavior problems like separation anxiety may be addressed with patience and the help of your veterinarian.

Any Pet Can Develop a Chronic Disease

When you bring a pet into your life, it should be a lifetime commitment, through sickness and in health. If you were to adopt a healthy puppy, there’s no guarantee that it won’t develop a chronic disease. When you adopt a special-needs pet, you have the advantage of being able to talk to a veterinarian before you sign any papers. That way, you can know in advance what kind of veterinary care and financial commitment will be needed, as well as what the long-term prognosis is for the condition.

Hospice Care: Adoption with a Purpose

Unfortunately, some homeless pets are diagnosed with terminal illnesses, such as cancer, that may limit their life spans. What could be more meaningful that opening your heart to give them a comfortable, loving home for the last months or weeks of their life?

If you’re really inspired, you could help your new companion with a bucket list.

Chances Are, You’ll Get Rescued, Too

A chronic disease rarely stops a dog or cat from lavishing love on the people around them. Your kindness will no doubt be repaid many times over with kitty head butts, the happy dance at the front door and simply quiet companionship on the couch. What are you waiting for?

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.