How can I care for my deaf cat?

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Are you worried about how your deaf cat will cope? Read our advice on coping with deafness in cats.

The human population is ageing, and so are our cats. With advances in veterinary care, cats are living longer and these days a cat aged 20 years is not unusual.

As cats age they will be more likely to become deaf or blind and need extra care and attention. Younger cats can also become blind or deaf for various reasons and cats can even be born without these senses. If you suspect your cat is becoming blind or deaf contact your vet as soon as possible as some causes of these problems are treatable.

Cats cope incredibly well with both; they compensate well with the other senses, particularly touch. Whiskers are highly specialized, giving the cat information about their surroundings, and other hairs on the legs and coat also help a cat navigate their surroundings. Cats also have an excellent sense of smell, but make sure you don’t hinder this with air fresheners, particularly pungent plug-ins and diffusers as these can disorientate.

One important thing (and this applies to any cat) is to ensure the cat can be identified if they get lost. The best way is with a microchip so ask your vet about this if your cat is not 'chipped' already. Another useful idea is a collar (always ensure collars have a safety release catch) with information about your cat. Some can be written on saying ‘I am deaf’ or attach a tag with this message along with contact phone numbers.

Deaf cats can usually go safely outdoors in an enclosed garden, but may prefer to remain inside. You could attach a bell to your cat's collar so you can hear where she is as she will not be able to hear you call for her. Feed her at a regular time so she is used to coming in at a time of your choosing.

Caring for a deaf cat

Always approach a deaf cat slowly, and use heavy steps to announce your presence, especially if they are asleep, as they may startle easily. Make sure everyone in the house knows this, including children who may inadvertently scare a deaf cat.

Some deaf cats can learn hand signals, but be consistent and use the same signal for ‘dinner time’ for example and it will become familiar to them.

If kept indoors make sure your cat’s environment is enriched with toys and climbing/scratching posts to prevent them from getting bored.

How can I find out if my cat is deaf?

A veterinary assessment is recommended in all cases of suspected deafness so that a cause can be identified and appropriate treatment provided. In elderly cats, the most common causes are:

  • Age-related deterioration of the ‘hearing apparatus’ in the middle and inner ear. This can develop slowly or quickly and typically occurs because of degeneration of the cochlea (the hearing organ) and/or stiffness of the tiny bones in the middle ear which transmit sound vibrations to the cochlea.
     
  • Excess wax in the external ear canal — this has the effect of muffling sound signals. Ear cleaning can restore hearing in these cats!

How can I help my cat live with deafness?

In cats suffering from permanent deafness, general advice to improve quality of life would include:

  • Maintain a regular routine: this is helpful in reassuring any cat with a disability.
     
  • Try to approach your cat within their sight (if visual) so that they are aware of your approach.
     
  • A calm, gentle approach to handling will be appreciated — for example, don’t just pick your cat up without warning.
     
  • If your cat is asleep when you approach him, try to make obvious vibrations (e.g. stamp your feet in a non-threatening manner!) to alert your cat to your presence.
     
  • Address any ‘hazards’ that might cause harm to a deaf cat — for example it is safer to confine a deaf cat indoors or within an enclosed garden since they will not be able to hear an approaching car.
     
  • Consider putting a bell on your cat’s collar so you can locate them if needed.
     
  • Consider putting a tag on their collar saying ‘I am deaf’ in addition to your contact details in case they ever get lost.