This week is National Deaf Pet Awareness Week. We’ve rounded up some common questions about caring for a deaf cat. In reality, the life of a deaf cat is hardly different from a hearing-abled cat. If you’re wondering how to tell if your cat is experiencing hearing loss, whether you need to train a deaf cat, and more, read on!
What causes deafness in cats?
Just like with humans, cats may experience hearing loss as they age. This is considered a degenerative change. Usually deafness is acquired, though, from infection, tumors, polyps, cancerous growths in the ear canal, diseases such as hyperthyroidism, certain medications, or even household chemicals. Some cats are genetically predisposed to deafness—especially those with white coats and blue eyes.
How can you tell if your cat is deaf or going deaf?
You may not realize your cat is going deaf until the condition is advanced, as signs are often very subtle. Signs of deafness include:
- Not responding to your prompts, such as calling for the cat, opening a can of food, shaking a bag of treats, and so on
- Not hearing your footsteps when you come close
- Being a very sound sleeper
- Being startled easily
- Meowing very loudly
How do you train a deaf cat?
“Training” a deaf cat may not be necessary, as hearing loss isn’t likely to impact a feline’s everyday needs—including eating, drinking, and using the litter box. However, some cat parents do use a form of sign language with their cats. This sort of sign language may be simple hand signals or using visual cues like a laser pointer or flicking a light switch on and off.
You can also make your home and your presence more accommodating to a deaf cat by taking steps to avoid startling him. For instance, you should never approach your cat from behind without signaling your presence: You might consider stomping, using the vibrations to alert your cat.
The sense of touch is even more important to a deaf cat. Take the time to stroke, brush, and comb your cat, as he will likely find this comforting. Engage in playtime with him every day—he will love the very same toys as a hearing-abled kitty!
Are white cats deaf?
Not all white cats are deaf. However, there is a much higher predisposition for deafness in cat breeds with white coats, especially those with blue eyes. According to James Flanders, DVM, associate professor of surgery at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “About 80 percent of white cats with two blue eyes will start to show signs of deafness when they are about four days old as a result of cochlear degeneration.”
In fact, when a white cat has one blue eye and one eye of another color, congenital deafness usually occurs only in the ear on the side of the blue eye. Cat breeds commonly affected by deafness include the Turkish Angora and Khao Manee.
How does a deaf cat communicate with other cats?
Audible communication between cats is not as important as other methods of communication. For instance, cats rarely meow at one another in greeting—this sound tends to be reserved for their human counterparts. Cats are adept at reading the body language of other felines. Although a deaf cat will not be able to hear another cat hiss, other visual indicators (such as body posture, tail movement, eye contact, and ear movement) will clue him into the situation.
Usually it is perfectly fine to have a deaf cat along with other cats—perhaps even preferable! According to VCA Hospitals, “A deaf cat will tend to look to the hearing cat for visual clues about what is going on. The deaf cat will play with its hearing companion, chasing through the house just like a normal cat.”
Can a deaf cat go outside?
No—if you know your cat is deaf or experiencing hearing loss, he should absolutely not be allowed outside. That’s because a deaf cat won’t be able to hear oncoming traffic, predators, and other potential threats to his safety. You may wish to build an enclosed “catio” structure so he can still enjoy being outside in a protected environment.
Is there any way to prevent deafness in cats?
Some causes of deafness or hearing loss in cats can be prevented. For instance, you can keep a clean environment for your cat in an effort to discourage ear mites or other infections. If you notice signs of swelling, discharge, or a collection of dirt and debris, take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Cover photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash