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Guide To Caring For a Deaf Cat (Vet Answer)

Dr. Leigh Wilder, DVM (Vet)

By Dr. Leigh Wilder, DVM (Vet)

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Dr. Leigh Wilder

DVM (Veterinarian)

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An attuned owner may notice subtle changes in their cat like deeper sleep, becoming less playful, or showing less interest in household activities. Are these normal signs of aging, or could they indicate a potential medical issue? The following guide will discuss how to identify and diagnose deafness in your cat, potential causes of hearing loss, and tips on how to care for your deaf feline.

Signs Your Cat May Be Deaf

Deafness may be difficult to assess in cats as they are skilled at utilizing other senses, such as vision and vibration, to compensate for hearing loss. Cats suffering from unilateral deafness (affecting only one ear) may be especially challenging to identify. While signs of hearing loss in felines may be subtle, observations that could indicate deafness in your cat include:

  • Sleeping through loud noises
  • Startling easily
  • Becoming difficult to rouse from sleep
  • Showing less interest in normal household activities
  • No longer coming when called
  • Making louder vocalizations (meowing)
  • Showing less interest in noise-making toys

How Is Deafness Diagnosed In Cats?

close up exotic shorthair cat
Image Credit: ardiwebs, Shutterstock

If you are suspicious that your cat may be deaf or suffering from hearing loss, an appointment with your veterinarian is needed for further evaluation. Your veterinarian will examine your cat, taking special care to perform an otoscopic examination, which allows them to visualize and assess the ear canal and eardrum. They may also observe your cat’s response to various sounds in the exam room—although this does not always provide an accurate assessment of auditory function, especially in a stressed or unilaterally deaf feline.

If your veterinarian is concerned with deafness in your cat, they may recommend referral for brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) testing. This is an objective, non-invasive test used to assess hearing in companion animals, that is often offered at referral or specialty institutions.

Causes of Deafness In Cats

A wide variety of conditions may lead to hearing loss in felines. While multiple criteria are used to classify deafness in cats, we will further describe hearing loss as being either conductive or sensorineural. Conduction deafness occurs with either a reduction or lack of sound transmission to the cochlea—an important component of the middle ear. Conduction deafness may result from the following conditions:

  • Infection: Infection of the outer ear canal or middle ear (otitis externa and otitis media, respectively) may result in deafness. Hearing loss resulting from bacterial infection may improve with appropriate treatment; however, recovery from otitis media is often prolonged and can take weeks before improvement in hearing is noted.
  • Inflammation: In addition to that resulting from infection, inflammation occurring secondary to polyps or masses in the ear may also lead to hearing loss in cats. Surgical correction of these abnormalities can often restore hearing in affected animals.
  • Developmental defects: While uncommon, developmental defects such as malformation of the middle ear or external ear canal may result in deafness.

Sensorineural deafness occurs as a result of cochlear hair cell loss in the inner ear and represents a form of untreatable hearing loss in cats. Examples of sensorineural deafness include:

In addition to the more frequently-noted causes of deafness detailed above, less common causes of hearing loss in cats may also include trauma, environmental noise, and general anesthesia.

Tips For Living With a Deaf Cat

ginger Exotic shorthair cat sleeping near a door
Image by: Wutlufaipy, Shutterstock

Once deafness has been identified in your cat, it is important to move forward with care and attention to the unique ways in which their day-to-day life may be different. While adjusting to life with a deaf cat may initially seem daunting, both you and your cat will be able to transition to a “new normal” in no time. If you share your home with a cat affected by hearing loss, consider the following tips to keep them happy, safe, and healthy:

  • Consider an indoor lifestyle. Deaf cats face increased risk being outdoors, as they will be less able to protect themselves from dangers such as motor vehicles and predators. For cats with a strong desire to be outdoors, options such as patios or catios offer a safe way for felines to experience the sights and sounds of nature. Additionally, training your cat to walk on a harness and leash can be a safe way to provide supervised outdoor access for your curious, deaf feline.
  • Provide environmental enrichment. Cats require an environment in which their natural behaviors such as scratching, chewing, and playing, can be expressed—and deaf felines are no exception. Scratching posts, cat trees, window perches, and a variety of different toys are all options that can provide enrichment for deaf cats. Food-dispensing toys, laser pointers, or toys that move or vibrate may be of special interest to cats with hearing loss.
  • Avoid startling your cat. Deaf cats may startle more easily than their hearing counterparts, raising potential concern for bites or scratches which may occur out of fear or surprise. To avoid this, when entering a room use several stomps or firm steps to communicate your presence—deaf felines will be especially attuned to these vibrations, and less likely to respond in fear if they sense someone approaching.
  • Consider training using visual cues. Training using American Sign Language signs and other gestures has proven effective in deaf dogs; owners of hearing-impaired cats may also be able to train their pets using this method. Additionally, other visual cues such as flicking a light on and off or using a laser pointer can be used as training signals for deaf felines.
  • Keep tabs on your cat’s location. Deaf cats may be more difficult to locate in your home as they are unable to hear your calls, and may not realize when you arrive home after being gone. Using a small key finder or pet tracker attached to their collar can help reduce stress if you are unable to readily find your deaf cat in your home.

With a few modifications, sharing your home with a deaf cat can be a rewarding experience for both you and your pet. Supporting a newly-diagnosed deaf feline may be relatively easy, or may require a little more effort and care—either experience is normal, and it is okay for this journey to be a work-in-progress. Deafness is but one attribute of your cat, and should not hinder its ability to live a long, healthy, and happy life.

Featured Image Credit: medveda, Shutterstock

Dr. Leigh Wilder, DVM (Vet)

Authored by

Dr. Leigh is a US-based veterinarian with over 9 years of experience. She is a lifelong animal lover who grew up with all kinds of pets, including dogs, hamsters, and fish. Leigh received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota and has specialized in shelter medicine and small animal clinical practice ever since. She enjoys small animal preventative medicine and surgery and loves helping...Read more

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