Tips for Living With a Deaf Cat
Introduction by Franny:
When I had the opportunity for a guest article by Dr. Anne Helmenstine, the Chemistry Expert for About.com, I eagerly jumped at the chance. I've known Dr. Anne to be a cat lover from way back when, and I've taken great pleasure in reading the articles on her website, especially during October, which is black cats month on my site.
The following article offers a new perspective to those who live with a deaf cat, and to those who may be thinking of adopting one.
If you have a deaf cat, or are considering getting one, you may be wondering how to communicate with it and whether deafness poses problems for felines. You'll want to see your vet to treat any medical conditions, since some cases of deafness are caused by parasites, infection, tumors, or toxins, but once you've tended to kitty's health, it's time to learn how to adapt.
My very first cat, Phantom, was a white kitten that I got from a shelter. He was very young (maybe 6 weeks old) and had green eyes, so the shelter didn't suspect he might be deaf. Why does the eye color matter? Congenital (inherited) deafness is most commonly seen in white, blue-eyed cats. However, other cats may be born deaf. I took him to see the vet, who confirmed Phantom was perfectly healthy -- just deaf. Just so you know, not all white, blue-eyed cats are deaf. Also, some white cats with other colors of eyes may inherit deafness.
From a lifetime living with a deaf cat, from kittenhood through old age, I've learned some tips for interacting with a deaf cat and keeping him safe from hidden dangers. It's my list of "things I wish I had known" that I hope will help you if you have a deaf or hearing-impaired cat.
How To Tell Your Cat Has a Hearing Problem
You'll want to confirm whether your cat can hear anything. I did not know I had a deaf kitten. However, he displayed a couple of behaviors that could have tipped me off, had I known about them.
First, many deaf cats have an extremely loud meow. This may vary from cat to cat, but it's not uncommon for a hearing-impaired cat to meow loudly enough to hear himself. Why totally deaf cats meow loudly, I can't say. Some scientists believe cats meow to communicate with humans, so this behavior seems contrary to that. My kitten meowed loudly enough the neighbors could hear him!
Second, if you come up behind a deaf cat, you may startle him. Or, you might not! If you have a heavy tread or hardwood floors, there's a good chance he'll feel the vibration of your approach. One way to test for deafness is to sneak up behind your cat and snap your fingers or jingle a bell. Make sure he doesn't see you.
Keeping a Deaf Cat Safe
It should go without saying that a deaf or hearing impaired cat should be an indoor cat because he won't be able to detect threats as easily as a cat that can hear.
However, Phantom did go outdoors with me, so I can offer some words of advice from experience.
Cars pose a particular threat, especially electric cars. A deaf cat will feel an engine start and may sense cars on the street, but he will be startled by bicycles, angry birds (where did THAT come from?), and falling leaves, and can easily run into danger.
Dogs, people, and other potential hostiles can approach a deaf cat. This can end badly for the cat or may result in scratches and bites to humans.
Day-To-Day-Living With a Deaf Cat
Deaf cats, like deaf humans, often compensate for the loss of one sense with increased awareness of other senses. Since Phantom was born deaf and he was the first cat I had ever encountered, we naturally worked out ways to get along.
You can call a deaf cat. Oh, not by name... just thump on the floor or a wall. If you want to train him to come when called, reward him with a treat. While you can't call a deaf cat by shaking a container of treats, felines have a more acute sense of smell than humans. If you open a can of food, chances are good he will appear.
Walking around with an open can of food is a good way to find a misplaced deaf cat. If he's hungry, the lure of food will draw him out.
In addition to training a deaf cat to come, you can train a deaf cat to do any number of tricks. Rather than using voice cues, like you might with a hearing cat, use hand signals.
When people visit your home, explain that the cat is deaf so they won't feel stupid calling "here kitty kitty" (not that most cats actually answer to that, but you get the picture).
Deaf cats are freaked out by loud thunder and fireworks, since both events can shake his surroundings.You can't talk soothingly to your deaf kitty, but he will understand that a gentle touch and a slow blink from you mean that you care.
A Final Note
Although a cat who loses hearing may require an adjustment period, a cat born deaf isn't remotely debilitated or disabled. A deaf cat makes a perfectly wonderful pet and companion! Sure, you can expect strange looks at the vet's office when they ask the cat's name and you can't think of it right away, since you never use it. Yes, if you own a deaf cat, you'll likely call cats that can hear by thumping the floor. It's fine. You won't notice any difference between a deaf cat and any other kitty.