How do I know if my cat is deaf?

Just like humans, hearing loss is a common problem that aging cats face. Just like you find you might need to turn up the TV a few notches every couple of years, as your cat ages you might find that you need to call her name a little louder or she might not react to the food can being opened anymore. While hearing loss is a common part of aging and most cats experience it, there are other reasons for hearing loss that you might not realize.

Why do cats go deaf?

As discussed, aging is the most common reason. It’s a common degenerative issue that the body goes through during the aging process. Loud noises throughout a cat’s life can also cause strain and micro-damage to the ears that builds up over time. If, for example, you have a music lover in the family that likes to blast their stereo, or you live near an airport and regularly have loud planes overhead, that can cause damage to both human and feline ears.

There are other medical issues that might cause hearing loss though. Ear infections, growths, fungus or mites can all cause hearing loss, either gradual or subtle. If you notice your cat stratching at their ears or they shake their head a lot, these can be signs that there’s an issue inside their ear that their vet should take a look at. In any case, if you notice cat hearing loss, have your vet take a look at their next appointment just to be sure it’s simply age related and not something else.

Also, some cats are just born deaf! If you’ve recently adopted an older cat and notice they have bad or no hearing, it could simply be that they were born with a genetic condition (called congenital deafness) so they’ve never been able to hear. This is fairly common in all white cats.

What are some signs my cat is going deaf?

Hearing loss is something that normally happens over time. It’s rarely something that a cat will wake up with one day and suddenly not be able to hear. So the following are the most common signs your cat is going deaf:

  • No longer responding to noises they previously would have reacted to. Many cats will run into the kitchen the minute they hear their food can open, or they might run to the door the second they hear your keys jingling on the other side. If your cat is suddenly not responding to these noises as they used to, it could be because they’re losing their hearing.
  • Overcompensating with other senses. Losing your hearing can be scary, and you might find that cats need to respond with other senses more if they start to lose their hearing. For example, a cat might start to pace at meal time, continually checking if there’s food in their bowl because they didn’t hear the cat open. They might meow more, especially if you aren’t in the same room and they aren’t sure if you’re home.
  • Becoming more reliant on another cat. If you have more than one cat, your deaf cat might start relying more on the hearing cat for visual clues as to what is going on. This can actually make it tough to tell that a cat is losing their hearing, especially if the cats have always been close. If your cat suddenly seems closer to another cat though, or seems stressed if that cat isn’t in the same room or is at the vet, then that could be a sign they are looking for that cat for more than just companionship.
  • Easily startled by movement or touch. Younger cats have very good hearing and will often wake if you open a door or say their name. A deaf cat obviously will not hear these noises, and because of that can be scared if you touch them while they’re sleeping or if they suddenly see you standing close to them.

What can the vet do about cat deafness?

The first thing your vet will likely do if your cat is losing its hearing is check the ears for any physical issue. They will likely scrape the ears to check for mites, and examine them to see if there’s any sort of mass or blockage that could cause hearing loss.

If the ears look healthy, your vet may do a BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) test. If your vet has this equipment, 3 small electrodes will be inserted under your cat’s skin on the head (these are just tiny needles and are no more painful than a shot), and the machine will emit a series of clicks. The electrodes will measure your cat’s brain activity in response to the clicks. The vet will then be able to judge if your cat is experiencing hearing loss and how severe it is. The following video refers to dogs, but the same test is done with cats.

What treatments can be done for deaf cats?

Unfortunately hearing loss is permanent if your cat’s hearing loss is due to age. Just because your cat is losing their hearing doesn’t mean they’ll become completely deaf, and cats completely adapt to deafness over time. after some time you might not even notice a difference in your deaf cat.

If there’s a physical cause for your cat’s deafness, your vet can provide you information about treatment. The treatmenet will depend on the cause of the issue. For mites, fungus or infections, drops will often be prescribed that you will put into your cat’s ears. If it’s some sort of mass, likely surgery will need to be done. Often even after these causes of deafness are found, however, there might be permanent hearing loss due to the damage that was caused.

How do I communicate with my deaf cat?

The biggest changes might be with how you learn to communicate with your deaf cat. You might not be able to get her attention by calling her name anymore, but you can focus on visual cues in order to get her to respond to you.

  • If you want her to come to you, get close to the floor and extend your hand out. Most of the time your cat will get up and come to you if she knows pets will be coming!
  • Most cats will react to a laser pointer. If you really need your cat’s attention, flash a laser pointer a few times to get her alert.
  • Flashing the lights on and off will alert a cat to your presence, and can be a good way to wake a sleeping cat other than touching her, which could startle her.
  • Stomping on the floor to create vibrations is a good way to alert a cat of your presence.

How do I keep my deaf cat safe?

This is probably obvious, but the outdoors isn’t a safe place for a deaf cat. Your cat can no longer be alerted to cars, people or other animals until it’s too late. Because of this, if you have an outdoor cat you may want to reconsider allowing your cat outside by themselves. This can be a difficult decision, especially for a cat who has been let outside for most of their life, but for your cat’s safety might be the best choice.

Going deaf isn’t the end of the world for you cat and it shouldn’t be for you. With a little adjustment you will find a new normal and have many happy years together.

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