Deafness in cats
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Deafness in cats

Cats
Health & Safety

Deaf cats are incredibly good at compensating for their lack of hearing, so much so that it may not become obvious for some time that a cat cannot hear at all! There are many different levels of deafness in cats, just as there are with people, as well as a variety of causes for it. Some kittens may be born deaf, whereas in other cats, the condition develops and progresses when they are all grown up. And of course, deafness may be present in both ears simultaneously, or just in one!Are you thinking of taking on a deaf cat, or would you like to learn more about deafness in cats and how to identify and manage it? Read on to find out more.

Different types of deafness in cats

Deafness in cats falls into two separate categories, depending on whether the deafness is caused by damage to the nerves that are responsible for hearing, or if the problem is due to a physical obstruction that keeps sound from passing through the ear in the normal manner. Depending on the type of deafness that a cat suffers from, the condition may prove to be temporary or treatable, rather than being an incurable lifelong condition.

Problems with the nerves in the ear

A variety of problems can cause the nerves of the ear to fail to function or to function inadequately, and in some cats, deafness is a genetically inherited condition that particularly often comes accompanied with an all-white coat and blue eyes. Other problems and conditions that affect the nerves of the ears can be caused be a range of different factors, and can result in permanent deafness, including:

  • Infections of the inner ear.
  • Nerve damage due to exposure to loud noises over a prolonged period of time, or a sudden and very loud noise occurring as a one-off event.
  • Nerve deterioration as a side effect of aging.
  • Poisoning and toxicity that causes nerve damage.

Obstructions that mean sound is unable to pass through the ear

Physical obstructions within the ear due to a range of different factors can also cause deafness in cats, and some of these problems may be treatable, leading to encroaching deafness being reversible. These obstructions might be caused due to:

  • Ear mites blocking the ear canal.
  • A significant build-up of ear wax obstructing the ear canal.
  • Tumours or other growths that occlude the inner ear.
  • Infections of the middle ear or outer ear.

Identifying deafness in cats

If you are beginning to suspect that your cat is deaf or suffering from hearing problems, it is important to take them along to the vet for a definitive diagnosis, and to identify if treatment of the underlying cause of deafness might be able to reverse the condition. Signs and symptoms of deafness to watch out for in cats include:

  • Any discharge such as pus, fluid or a lot of ear wax visible in the ear, or an unpleasant smell being present around the ears.
  • Shaking the head or patting at and clawing the ears, or excessive scratching of the ears.
  • Meowing loudly, as a cat that is hard of hearing will not be able to regulate their volume.
  • Becoming startled at approaches from outside of their range of vision that a hearing cat would be aware of due to the accompanying sound.
  • Failure to respond to being called, or not reacting to your voice or loud noises.
  • Dizziness, balance and coordination issues sometimes accompany ear problems, and so a cat that appears particularly clumsy or appears disorientated may be suffering from deafness.

Taking care of a deaf cat

After your vet has formally diagnosed deafness and it has been established if anything can be done to reverse the condition, there are a variety of ways in which you can help your deaf cat to adapt to a life without sound.

  • Remember that deaf cats will not be able to hear traffic or approaching predators, so if your cat goes outside, you will need to carefully risk assess the local area and decide if it is still viable to allow your cat out. You may wish to consider providing a garden enclosure for your cat if you decide that it would no longer be safe for them to roam freely.
  • Make sure that your cat’s collar tag states ‘this cat is deaf’ on it, as well as your contact details, to make things easier for your cat if they wander off and are found by a helpful person who will try to reunite them with you.
  • Make sure that you don’t creep up on your cat or approach them suddenly from outside of their field of vision. Stamping on the floor can help to alert your cat of your presence, as they will feel the accompanying vibrations even if they cannot hear the sound.
  • Consider using hand signals or flashing lights in place of verbal communication; your cat may soon come to recognise a simple sequence of ‘come back in’ lights, if their response comes accompanied with some treats or a meal!

Deaf cats generally manage very well despite their lack of hearing, and caring for a deaf cat after a few initial adjustments have been made should not have too much of an impact on either your life or that of your cat.

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