You may have brought home a deaf kitten, rescued a deaf cat, or your feline may have recently been diagnosed with hearing loss.
The good news is there’s no reason they can’t be happy and healthy while also being hard-of-hearing.
Below, expert vet Dr Corinne Wigfall explains how to give them the physical and emotional care they need for you both to live a fulfilled life together.
Some felines are born deaf, known as congenital deafness. Others can slowly become deaf as they reach their twilight years or suddenly lose their hearing due to illness or injury.
Just like with human deafness, cat hearing loss is on a scale and can either be reversible or permanent.
Causes of reversible deafness include:
Causes of permanent deafness include:
It’s not always easy to tell if your cat is deaf. Especially if they still have hearing in one ear or they’re in the early stages of hearing loss.
A few things you can try at home to test if your cat is deaf are:
Most cats will hear the sound of their food hitting the bowl, or a packet of their favourite treats being opened. Just make sure your cat can’t see you open the packet or scoop the food when doing this test.
Speak to your vet if you suspect that your kitten is completely deaf or your cat is starting to lose their hearing.
Treatment for reversible deafness depends on the underlying cause. For example, removing a growth in the ear canal or clearing out a build-up of ear wax.
Permanent deafness caused by genetics or age can’t be treated or reversed. So it’s all about adapting your behaviour towards your cat and their environment to make them feel safe and loved.
Deaf cats can lead healthy and happy lives – with a little extra help from their human. A deaf cat needs to live an indoor life, as the risk of injury outside is too great without hearing abilities.
Here’s what you can do to look after your hard-of-hearing feline:
Focusing on positive body language and facial expressions towards your deaf cat is a great way to show them love and affection.
With time, patience, and positive reinforcement, you could even try to teach them basic hand gesture cues.
Cat toys that are eye-catching with bright colours, enticing textures, and lots of movement should hopefully prove a hit with your feline. You can also encourage them to make more use of their other senses such as smell and taste.
Examples of fun toys and activities include:
It’s possible for deaf cats to feel more anxious as they’re more vulnerable to predators. But hard of hearing felines are prone to the same behavioural problems that their hearing counterparts do.
So if you’re at all worried about your cat’s behaviour, reach out to a veterinary behaviourist for support.
Deaf cats can be just as affectionate as hearing cats. Cats have their own unique personalities and it’s this, along with your bond, that will shape their affection towards you.
You might notice that they’re more physical with you as their chosen form of communication.
Deaf cats may vocalise louder and more often – including purring and meowing – than hearing cats because it’s harder for them to control their volume.
White cats with blue eyes are a rarer mix among the cat population but are at a higher risk of being born deaf. This is because a defective gene can cause them to have inner ear development problems.
A 2019 study on congenital sensorineural deafness (CSD) looked at 132 solid white purebred kittens and 61 coloured littermates in the UK.
The study found that deafness was:
It also noted a higher congenital deafness diagnosis in the following breeds:
Although white cats are more at risk of congenital deafness compared to non-white cats, not every cat will be born deaf.
Speak to your vet if you’re at all worried that your cat is showing any symptoms of deafness or doesn’t seem right in themselves.
We get it – cats can be sassy. They have selective hearing at times, so much so that you may question your sanity, or whether they’re actually deaf.
One of the easiest ways to tell is by their meows. They’ll either be non-existent or louder and more frequent than cats who don’t struggle with their hearing.
Your vet will be able to examine your cat and run tests to check if they’re truly hard-of-hearing.
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