Cat Hearing Loss, Deafness and Ear Problems

Photo of Deaf Cat Olaf
Deaf Cat Olaf. photo © Olebrumm, Switzerland

Symptoms of Deafness:

Cats can compensate for early degrees of hearing loss, so sometimes their human companions are unaware of the problem until complete deafness occurs. Sharp eyes may spot symptoms, both early and late:

  • Failure to respond when spoken to or called
  • Cat is easily startled
  • Very loud meowing
  • Signs of dizziness or disorientation
  • Shaking head or clawing at ear (can be indicative of ear infection or mites.)
  • Pus or other drainage from ear
  • Unpleasant odor about ears
  • Pink or scaly areas at the tips of the ears (in white cats or cats with light-colored ears).
    Can be the beginning of a skin cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is common to white cats and other cats with white ears.

Types of Deafness:

Hearing loss in cats falls into two general categories:

  1. Conduction Deafness
    Caused by tumors and/or infection (Otitis) Conduction deafness may be reversible by treating the root cause
  2. Nerve Deafness
    Can be congenital, as in the case of blue-eyed white cats, or acquired, through toxicity (drugs toxic to cats' ears, or neoplasia (a tumor-like growth)

The third category of hearing loss exists in older cats, and is a combination of the two, resulting from nerve damage and the fusing together of the bones of the inner ear.

Diagnosis:

Problems with ear mites, tumors, or infection can be fairly easily diagnosed by your veterinarian.

However for hearing loss caused by aging, a more sophisticated test, the (BAER) brainstem auditory evoked response test may be needed. Since hearing loss due to aging is not reversible, you may decide to help your cat compensate for his loss.

How You Can Help:

There are a few things you can do to help your senior cat adapt to hearing loss.

  1. Avoid startling him
    Make sure he knows you are in the area before walking up upon him. One veterinarian suggests turning a light off and on rapidly before entering a room.
  2. Put your hand on her or pet her when you are talking, and she will "hear" the vibration of your hand as you speak.
  3. Clap your hands or stomp on the floor to get his attention
  4. Communicate in both verbal and non-verbal ways.
    Use loving touch or the "I love you" slow blink, instead of talking aloud. You can whisper the "I love you" as you blink, and he'll still get the message. Don't be surprised if he blinks back

Although not all forms of hearing loss are reversible, cats are extremely resilient and adaptable to their infirmities. Your gentle care and management will go a long way in helping them adjust to life without sound.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. This article is meant only to give you a starting place to do your own research so you can make an informed decision, should it ever become necessary.