Living with Deaf Cats
There are a number of reasons cats lose their hearing. They could be born deaf (known as congenital deafness), or develop hearing loss during old age or after physical illness. With a few adjustments to their living space and routine, deaf cats can still lead a very happy, healthy rich life.
Signs and Symptoms
Most healthy cats have much better hearing than their owners, so if your cat is unable to hear sounds that you can easily hear, he or she may be suffering from hearing loss. Common signs of deafness include:
- Not noticing when you enter the house
- Not responding to everyday sounds, such as his or her name, loud noises and squeaky toys
- Louder meowing
- Not woken by loud noises, such as a door banging
- Increase in sleep
- Increased sensitivity to smells and temperature
There are a number of reasons a cat might become deaf. Your vet will help you determine the likely cause and appropriate treatment.
Cats with a white coat and blue eyes have a higher risk of being born deaf. This is particularly true of breeds such as Persians, Scottish Folds, Ragdolls, Cornish Rex, Devon Rex, Oriental shorthair, Turkish angora, Maine Coone and Manx.
Just as many humans lose their hearing as they age, so do cats. This is due to the delicate structures of the inner ear losing their sensitivity to vibration. Age-related hearing may develop very gradually, and can sometimes take longer to diagnose.
A number of underlying physical illnesses can cause hearing loss, usually because the condition is somehow preventing sounds waves from reaching the nerves in the ear. This includes:
- Inflammation of the inner or outer ear
- Infectious diseases
- Degenerative nerve changes
- Tumors or cancer that affect the nerves in the ear
- Trauma to the ear
Toxins and Drugs
Some medications, such as antibiotics, antiseptics and chemotherapy drugs can affect your cat’s hearing. Medications that remove excess fluid from the body can also affect hearing, as can heavy metals such as arsenic, lead or mercury.
A simple test to determine if your cat is deaf is to loudly clap your hands while he or she if facing away from you. If there is no response, it’s probably time to see the vet. Your vet will probably ask you for a thorough history of your cat's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition, including any drugs that may have damaged the ear or caused a chronic ear disease. Your vet will be able to determine a likely cause and tell you whether the hearing loss is a temporary or permanent condition.
If you think your cat may be deaf, seek urgent advice from your vet. Unfortunately, congenital deafness is irreversible. However if the hearing loss is caused by an inflammation of the outer, middle, or inner ear, or a type of cancer, your cat’s hearing may be restored after successful treatment of the underlying condition.
Living with Deaf Cats
It is quite easy to accommodate the needs of cats with congenital deafness, as they will automatically use their other senses to take in information and communicate. However, if your cat has only recently become deaf or is suffering gradual and partial hearing loss, it can take a little longer for both you and them to adjust to their condition.
Keep your cat inside
If your cat has become profoundly deaf, the outside world can be very dangerous. He or she won’t be able to hear oncoming traffic, dogs or other traffic and will be at greater risk of injury. The safest option is to train your cat to stay indoors. This may require some adjustment to routine, such as retraining your cat to use kitty litter (if he or she usually goes outside). You might also consider creating a contained cat run in your yard, so your cat still gets to go outside.
Use visual cues
For deaf cats, you will need to replace aural cues (such as using your voice to call them) with visual cues. For example, if you would like your cat to come to you, crouch down and motion with your hand. Or if it is time for dinner, create a signal the cat will learn to understand, like flicking the porch light a few times quickly. Cats are quick learners and will readily respond to hand signals, laser pointers or household lights.
Deaf cats startle easily. To avoid them becoming frightened, always approach your cat from the front where he or she can see you coming.
Use touch and vibration
Deaf cats will rely heavily on their other senses to take in information. To get your cat’s attention, try stomping firmly on the floor, as this will be felt as a vibration. You can then try a variety of visual cues to communicate.
Deaf cats, like all cats, love to play. Continue to play hunting and chasing games as you would with a hearing cat. It will keep him or her active and also strengthen the bond between you.