by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
This is an overview of some aspects of living with a deaf cat, and should not be considered a complete guide. Although there are many articles on the internet, your vet will have the best information and advice, and know the resources available locally for your cat.
At the first indication of possible deafness, it is advisable to see your vet as some causes of deafness are temporary and can be reversed by correct medical intervention and care at home.
Deaf cats are cats that have impaired hearing. They have the same needs, expectations, and quality of life as normally-hearing cats, only being vulnerable because they cannot hear, and therefore anticipate and react to, potential danger approaching. Deaf cats startle easily, and will instinctively lash out at any person or animal that surprises them. This is part of their survival instinct, and should not be confused with aggressive behaviour.
Other senses are heightened; smell, sight, touch, instinct and intuition are enhanced to provide information to replace sound. Deaf cats are alert and aware of their surroundings at all times. Due to the extra mental activity, these cats can seem more engaging and quick learners. However, deafness can cause them to misinterpret or ignore verbal cues from other animals and people, which can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Pheromone sprays or diffusers can be used to help make cats feel comfortable in a new environment.
Clear communication is needed to interact with deaf cats. It is first necessary to gain their attention, then to give a signal. Light or vibrations are the most common ways to gain attention. Flick a light on and off, shine a laser pointer in front of the cat, moving it from side to side, and then towards you. Vibrations can be felt from stamping on the floor, clapping your hands, waving your hands at the side of the cat, from opening or closing a door, or even from a deep or loud sound. The smell of a favourite treat, or person, can gain attention.
Hand signals are easy to make and use, requiring no other equipment. All members of the family, and pet-sitters, must use the same hand signals so as not to confuse the cat. This makes hands important to the cat, so do not use any part of your hand for punishment. A stern warning signal can be used, but no physical punishment.
Observe your cat and learn what signals and messages are being given by his position, body language, tail, eyes, and whiskers. Deaf cats are extremely observant, and will detect and interpret the slightest movement from any person or animal in the environment.
Many deaf cats prefer high places for safety and for observing the surroundings. Enclosed spaces are also safe and comforting. We can use the slow blink to signal safety and contentment to him.
Routines can be a comfort. Knowing when food is available, when you leave in the morning and are expected home at night, the difference between weekdays and weekends, is a form of safety.
Deaf cats cannot hear how much noise they are making when they cry, meow or yowl. This can be frightening for us, as they tend to be very loud. They may also purr louder than before they lost their hearing. They can make a game from the echoes of their voices by sitting close to a wall and yowling.
Another consequence of not hearing is the seemingly deliberate action of knocking items off tables and shelves. A hearing cat will get a fright at the noise of the falling object, where a cat that does not hear a sound only sees the falling, and possibly breaking, object, with no adverse reactions, is intrigued by the events, and stimulated to repeat the process.
Vulnerable cats should only be allowed outdoors into secure and safe gardens or catios, under supervision, or trained to walk on a harness. Where this is not practical or possible, consider bringing the garden indoors; a tray of grass, catnip and cat grass plants, and other safe plants in pots arranged to form hiding and resting places.
All cats should be microchipped; deaf cats should have this noted on their records and wear a collar with a tag stating they are both microchipped and deaf. Bells on the collar will help to locate the cat – if he is moving. A collar with a light, vibrating device or tracker is a better option.
Living with a deaf cat requires patience, consistency, some thought, and possible changes to the environment and management, but can be a rewarding experience.
To contact Barbara, please email email@example.com