How to tell if your cat is deaf

Just like us, our cats can be born deaf, or lose their hearing with age. Find out how to spot the signs of deafness in cats and help them cope with hearing loss.

As our cats age, their faculties can start to fade, and it’s not unusual to find some degree of deafness in older cats. In fact, many felines adapt so well to life without sound that it can be hard to tell your cat is deaf in the first place! So, what are the signs of deafness in cats you should be looking out for? And how can you best support your pet if they are experiencing hearing loss? Read on to find out.

How to tell if your cat is deaf

Did your cat always used to appear at the rattle of a full food bowl and flee from the sound of the vacuum cleaner, but no longer responds to these triggers? This can be a telltale sign of deafness in cats.

Most animals will look up or around when they hear a noise to locate the source of the sound, and a cat’s ears will generally swivel. So, one way to test if your cat is deaf is by quietly entering the room that they’re in, making sure they don’t notice you, then clapping your hands from a distance to see if they react.

What causes deafness in cats?

Hearing loss in cats can be congenital (in other words, they are born with it), or it can result from a number of health issues. Partial or total deafness in older cats can often develop as their hearing naturally deteriorates over time. Cats can also become deaf due to a chronic ear infection, trauma to the ear, chemical toxins or a blockage, such as a growth or tumour.

Deafness in white cats

Due to genetics, congenital deafness in cats is more common in those with white coats; and deafness in white cats is even more common if they also have blue eyes. Although not all white cats are deaf, around 17–22% of white cats with non-blue eyes are born deaf; around 40% of white cats with one blue eye and one differently coloured eye; and 65–85% of white cats with two blue eyes. If you rehome a white cat, it’s always a good idea to make sure they’ve had their hearing checked.

Caring for a deaf cat

Discovering your cat is deaf can be worrying, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t live a full and happy life. Read on for our top tips on caring for a deaf cat and adapting to their needs.

Keep your deaf cat safe

The most important consideration when your cat is going deaf is their safety. A cat that has free run of the neighbourhood could end up injured if they can’t hear cars approaching or horns honking at them to get out of the way. Dogs passing close by can also pose a threat if they can’t be heard. Ideally, you should restrict a deaf cat to your home and garden. If you can’t make your garden cat-proof, then provide a secure enclosure coming off your back door, or accessed via a cat flap, so your cat can still enjoy being outdoors while keeping safe.

Consider a cat bell

If your cat is used to wearing a cat-safe collar, it’s a good idea to fit this with a bell. This could help you locate a deaf cat more easily if they can’t hear you calling.

Avoid startling a deaf cat

Try to approach your cat from the front, especially when they’re resting, as they won’t hear you coming from behind. If your cat is lying on the floor, they may feel the vibrations if you stamp your feet slightly to announce your arrival. You could also switch the lights on and off a couple of times on entering a room, so your cat knows you’re coming.

Make time to play with your deaf cat

Deafness in cats doesn’t mean that their quality of life needs to be reduced. Using cat toys that involve lots of movement – such as rolling small balls or flicking fishing-rod toys in front of them – will help keep your deaf cat stimulated. Bear in mind that if your cat is getting on in years, you may need to adjust their routine a little to keep them physically and mentally active.

Make the indoors fun

If your deaf cat previously enjoyed hunting and roaming outside but their outdoor access is now reduced, find new ways to entertain them indoors. Try providing food-activity toys or hiding a few dry cat biscuits around the house for them to find. You may also find your cat responds to cat-stimulation videos online, such as mice running around or insects flitting about.

Sign language for deaf cats

Training a deaf cat to recognise hand signals could make it easier for you to communicate with them. For example, you could teach your deaf cat a simple beckoning signal for ‘come here’. Wait until they’re paying attention, beckon them over with your hand, and if they respond, reward them with a small food treat or stroke. As with all cat training, you’ll need to be patient and consistent. Similarly, you could use a different hand signal, such as cupped hands, to tell your deaf cat it’s time for dinner. Use the signal every time you’re moving towards their feeding area and preparing their meal, and they’ll soon come to associate it with getting fed.

Deafness in cats can be a common problem as they age, although it’s not always easy to spot, as our feline friends are so adept at relying on their other senses. We’ve got the lowdown on how to tell if your cat is going deaf – and how to help a deaf cat live their best life.

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