by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
There are degrees of deafness, from not responding because they have something better to do, through deteriorating levels of hearing, inability to process sounds, to complete inability to hear any sound.
Cats’ main information-gathering sense is smell, followed by hearing, then sight. While deaf cats have lost the second-most important communication sense, they expand all their other senses to compensate. It almost seems that they can ‘hear’ with their whiskers, eyes, mind, and feel vibrations through their paws. This can make it difficult to detect in the early stages; a proper expert veterinary diagnosis is needed, with information on how to help them. Deaf cats are cats that cannot hear sounds; they would consider themselves vulnerable, not disabled.
Deafness can affect cats of any age; kittens born deaf, trauma, injury or illness, through to slow deterioration due to ageing. One or both ears can be affected, causing cats to sometimes be reactive to noise and other times not. Ear infections can cause temporary deafness.
Cats that intermittently ignore us are more likely to have something more interesting to consider, or realise that they are off to the vet! These cats typically respond to the tin-opener, treats packet crackle, or fridge door opening, showing that they can hear quite well. There may be a slow reduction in full hearing ability, there may be a range of sounds that are not as clear.
Head-shaking, head tilting, and constant scratching of the ears can be caused by issues with the ears; mites, wax, infection, foreign objects, growths, or neurological issues are some potential causes.
When cats stop reacting to sounds, become unconcerned about the vacuum cleaner and miss the doorbell, there is a need for intervention from us. Other signs include sleeping more, ears not reacting to sounds from behind or further away, demanding more attention, yowling, or easily startled. Genetica, age, and some medications can hasten the effect of deafness.
Loud yowling can be a sign of deafness. Since the cat cannot hear herself, she has no idea how loud she sounds! At night, in the dark, deaf cats may feel lost and alone, and need our interaction to feel safe. If possible and practical, arrange beds and familiar objects in various places around the house, so that there is always something comforting within easy reach.
Where there are hearing cats in the household, a deaf cat will look to the hearing cat for information on what is happening in the immediate environment. This can make it more difficult to identify deafness.
Deaf cats should be confined to enclosed, safe areas; they need not be confined indoors if the garden area is secure. While these cats may be able to see or feel the approach of danger coming towards them, they are completely unaware of anything approaching from behind, making it easy for them to be caught or trapped by other animals, or be hit by cars. Training to a harness is a good way of allowing the cat to explore extended territory safely.
A tracker device is useful for finding cats when they don’t respond to voice calls, rattling of food bowls, or other audible triggers. Bells on the collar are useful to locate a moving cat, when she is sleeping the bells are silent. Microchipping is essential, the information that she is deaf should be listed.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org