Deafness in cats bears a striking resemblance to deafness in humans. Just like in humans, deafness in cats may be permanent or it may be temporary. The cat could be deaf in one ear or in both ears. They could suffer from partial or complete deafness. Also like humans, while hearing is a crucial sense, deaf cats can still live long, full, happy lives.
The Deaf Cat Gene
A difference between deafness in cats and deafness in humans is that there is a genetic disorder associated to fur color that causes deafness. A deaf cat who has this genetic disorder is said to have congenital deafness. According to James Flanders, DVM of Cornell Univeristy, 80% of white cats with blue eyes will show signs of deafness by the time they are 4 days old. The problem exists within the inner ear and is irreversible. White cats of the following breeds are the most likely to have congenital deafness:
- Cornish Rex
- Devon Rex
- Maine Coon
- Scottish Fold
- Oriental Shorthair
- Turkish Angora
These cats still make great pets and are generally healthy. A deaf cat with congenital deafness will not necessarily have any other medical problems.
Causes of Hearing Loss in Cats
More often than not, a cat will become deaf gradually over a period of time. Some causes of hearing loss are avoidable while others are not. Deafness can be due to a problem within the ear itself or with the brain’s ability to process the sound input that it receives from the ears.
The most common cause of progressive deafness in cats is outer ear infections (watch out for ear mites). The more severe the infection and the longer it has been allowed to go on, the more likely the deafness will be permanent.
Other common causes include old age, trauma, and certain medications. As cats get older, their eardrums thicken, which can lead to loss of hearing. Deafness in cats can also be caused by trauma to the head or ears as well as repeated exposure to loud sounds. A number of medications can have a side effect of hearing loss (especially if the drug was not used correctly):
- Aminoglycoside antibiotics
- Chemotherapy drugs
- Heavy metals (Mercury, Arsenic, Lead) – found in household cleaning chemicals
- Over the counter products used to remove ear wax
[Tweet “Deaf cats may be different, but they are just as pawesome as any other kitty! #cats #disabilities”]
Diagnosing a Deaf Cat
If you are concerned that you may have a deaf cat or that your cat is losing his/her hearing, contact your veterinarian. The best prevention of deafness in cats is visiting the veterinarian at the earliest signs of a problem. Ear examinations, hearing tests and bacterial cultures can be used to determine the extent of hearing loss as well as the cause.
The way that deafness is treated depends on the cause. No treatment may be necessary. Don’t use any medications (particularly those not intended specifically for cats) without your veterinarian’s recommendation.
At home, there are a few things you can do to test your cat’s hearing. Stand somewhere where the cat can’t see you or feel you and clap or call the cat’s name. A deaf cat will not react to these sounds. A cat that is losing its hearing may react to some sounds, but not others. A deaf cat is difficult to wake up, may seem disoriented, doesn’t seem to know that you are there until you touch him/her, and may have an unbalanced gait. Red or blackened ear canals may also be a sign of hearing loss (and infection).
Keeping Your Deaf Cat Safe
As mentioned before, a deaf cat can still make a great pet. Once you make a few small accommodations in for your deaf cat, the disability will fade into the background of normal life. A deaf cat can still play with you and other cats, purr, cuddle, and build a relationship with you just like any other cat. Here are a few tips to help your deaf cat stay safe, healthy, and happy:
- Keep your deaf cat indoors. There are a lot of dangers lurking outdoors that will be difficult for a deaf cat to avoid such as traffic.
- Put a bell on the deaf cat’s collar. A little bell can make it easier to find a deaf cat if they get out of your home. They won’t be able to hear you call their name.
- Use touch, vibration and light to signal your cat. Startling a deaf cat is a bad idea. When you enter a room where a deaf cat is, give them a signal that you are there. Give the cat a quick, gentle touch as you enter or leave. Stomping on the floor can send vibrations the cat can feel. Turning a light on and off can also signal the cat of your presence.
Do you know anyone with a deaf cat?
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