Pet Care Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology After a Disability or Condition – Occupational Therapy

We love our pets! Myself included.

“Sixty-seven percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted.”((

With the pandemic, I know many people who adopted pets. Pets have many positive benefits, but with pets being a big responsibility, as an occupational therapist, I have seen many challenges to pet care as an IADL for my patients.

Many patients have wanted to go AMA and back home because no one was there to watch their pets. Putting myself in their shoes, I would probably want to do the same. It is a good idea have a plan for who will take care of your pets if you were to get sick, get into an accident unexpectedly. This is potentially a question you can ask your patients and clients during an evaluation or during discharge planning.

How can our patients manage pet care?

Types of Solutions

There’s labor (getting people to help), low tech, high tech, or a combination of the three. If you or your client is unable to find someone to replace them as the owner for responsibilities such as feeding, relieving, walking, bathing, administering medications, or other pet-needed activities, then tech may be able to help.

Personally, I use two invaluable technologies for my cats: an automatic pet feeder and an automatic litter robot. These two devices still require set-up and maintenance, but reduce the day-to-day responsibilities and energy expenditure. Not to mention the cognitive piece of, “did I feed Mr. cat today”?

The Patient and Their Pet First

When pitching these potential solutions to your clients and getting their buy-in, one important factor is cost. When Americans are out of work, living paycheck to paycheck, or relying on a small check from social security, an expense such as pet-feeder or a litter robot (which costs hundreds of dollars) may not be possible. Some places such as second-hand or pet shelters may have donated or discounted pet products as well. In this case, they may want to ask the help from neighbors, friends, families, or other organizations.

Ideas for Patients

Here are some suggestions and ideas to get you started. Start low then go high tech. Remember to be client-centered, consider culture, roles, responsibilities, body functions, strengths, and weaknesses. Consider if a disability is temporary or chronic. Animals with special needs may require additional attention and care. Having an organized reminder system is very helpful such as a smartphone alarm.

  • Reacher grabbers for precautions (e.g., spinal precautions)
  • Long-handle sponges and loofas
  • Hand-held shower wand
  • Blow-dryer holders
  • Collars with bells
  • Handbell for recall
  • Pet fountains with filters
  • Animal sprays and wipes instead of wet bathing
  • Re-usable rags and cloths
  • Pet diapers (disposable or re-usable
  • Whistles and clickers for training
  • Dremel for nail cair
  • Pet doors to allow relieving when not home (physical or electrical with tag system)
  • Pet feeders
  • Electric can openers
  • Physical Fences
  • Spray can pet perimeters
  • Electrical fence perimeters
  • Furniture covers and protectors
  • Treat dispensers
  • Electric pet toothbrushes
  • Automatic litter robots
  • GPS collars
  • Apple Airtag collars (not officially supported)
  • Webcams
  • Pooper scoopers
  • Pooper scooper services
  • Automatic sensor lights (for low vision and darker conditions)
  • Smart home integration (Alexa, Siri, etc.)
    • Lighting and temperature control
    • Asking questions, e.g., “Alexa, can dogs eat chocolate?”
  • Odor eliminators (charcoal, fans, sprays)
  • Strollers
  • Pet stairs and steps (to avoid bending down to pick pets up)
  • Robot vaccums
  • Air filtration devices
  • Environmental modification and task simplification, e.g., instead of pouring litter from a heavy bag, purchase a smaller packaged version.
  • Dycem or velcro for bowls, pads, and other things that may getaway

Resources and Tips

  • The Assistance Dog Special Allowance (ADSA) program (California) provides a monthly payment of $50 to eligible persons who use a guide, signal, or service dog to help them with their disability-related needs. The allowance is to help pay the costs of food, grooming, and health care for the dog.
  • Pet Pantries
  • Ask if places such as veterinarians have a sliding scale for low income owners

I would love to hear what works for you or what your patients may benefit from. Send me your ideas and suggestions here, especially DIY ones that are more cost effective!