There is no reason your deaf cat shouldn't have a happy, fun-filled life. Some pets are born deaf or are genetically predisposed to deafness. For example, blue-eyed white cats can be born with a condition that results in deafness at an early age. Deaf cats won't know they are different, and with a few accommodations, shouldn't have any trouble in most households.
Before You Begin
It's important to understand cat hearing when living with a deaf cat. Normal cats hear much better than we do and youthful pets hear better than middle-aged and older animals. Cats typically hear the same low-pitched sounds as humans, as well as frequencies as high as 100,000 cycles per second. People can only hear sound waves up to 20,000 cycles per second. Your cat can hear sounds in a 10.5-octave range, a wider span of frequencies than any other mammal. That allows your cat to hear nearly ultrasonic rodent squeaks.
With age, the delicate structures of the inner ear begin to lose their sensitivity to vibration. This normal age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis, develops in every pet that lives long enough, just as it does in aging people. Hearing loss can be accelerated by damage from loud noises. Chronic ear infections may also result in hearing loss.
Cats can’t tell us that they’re hard of hearing, and they compensate by paying more attention with their other senses. They sleep more, meow loudly (because they can't hear themselves), watch owners and other pets more closely, and cue off of their behavior to know that somebody’s at the door, for example. Deaf pets also pay closer attention to vibration and air currents. The breeze made by an open door may cue them you’ve come home from work. Even when they can’t hear the can opener, the cat’s internal “clock” will announce suppertime.
What You Need
If you suspect sudden hearing loss, speak with your vet right away. There may debris or an infection causing the deafness. To do some deafness tests at home, gather some household items including:
- Cardboard box
Make some noises behind the cat's head like tear paper, jingle keys, crunch the foil, or tap on the cardboard box. The various sounds will test high and low frequencies. If your cat ignores the noises, there is likely hearing loss. A vet can confirm with a Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) procedure.
Use visual signals rather than your voice to communicate with your deaf pet. Cats easily learn to respond to hand signals, the beam of a flashlight, or the porch light flicked on and off, to come inside for dinner. Deaf pets startle more easily. Always approach your pet so he sees you coming, and stomp your foot or give him some other warning before petting him to avoid being accidentally nipped when you startle him.
Focus on Vibrations
A “dog whistle” that uses high-frequency sound waves may still be detectable to your hearing-impaired pet even when it can no longer hear your voice. The vibration from striking the lowest notes on the piano may be felt, even when your pet can’t hear. Use that as a signal to call your pet. A “pet locator” is helpful when your cat can’t hear you, and you can’t find it. Attach a pendant to the cat’s collar that emits a light tone when the hand-held transmitter is activated. Some deaf cats may “feel” the sound vibration, too, and the product is helpful for training purposes. That helps locate the cat whenever it goes out of sight. A “key finder” product should work well for this purpose.
Keep Them Indoors
There are far too many threats outdoor for deaf cats. They can't hear barking dogs, honking car horns, or people yelling, "watch out doggie!" Provide them with a comfortable seating area next to a window where they can look outside and see all that's going on.
Deaf cats are still happy pets. Some hearing loss is a natural, normal part of the aging process for both cats and humans. Making simple accommodations for a hearing-impaired pet isn’t difficult. Besides, it’s what we do for all our friends and family, and our cats are no exception.
Depending on the cause of the deafness, it may not be preventable. Deafness from aging is a natural cause and cannot be stopped. Treat bacterial infections, ear mites, or other inflammation quickly and with the assistance of your vet. Left untreated, some of these health conditions can result in permanent hearing loss.