When I met Oliver, the 11-year-old seal point Siamese was huddled under the spare room bed. He didn’t launch into a monologue the way so many Siamese do. He just stared at me.
Oliver was deaf. He’d been rescued from a feral cat colony in Connecticut by Sue Daury, and he was still clearly traumatized by his experiences. Daury, who works with a couple of cat rescues in the state, had been trying to figure out how best to draw him out of the dark, frightened place he was in. That was why she’d asked me to do a Reiki session.
“He has made small progress,” she explained. “Eye contact. I can touch him as long as I am very slow in approach. I feel so bad for him and just want him to be happy enough to stretch out and lie in the sun and snooze. It is doubly difficult to work with a deaf kitty.”
How did a deaf cat manage to survive this whole time? Daury thinks that Oliver did it by attaching himself to the colony and copying the other feral cats’ behavior.
Deaf Cats in a Home Environment
Some cats are born deaf. In fact, blue-eyed white cats are genetically predisposed to deafness. Other cats, according to the Cats Protection Veterinary Department in the UK, “lose their hearing gradually as they age. Sudden loss of hearing is normally the result of illness or injury.”
In a home environment, a deaf cat has “a normal quality of life,” writes Valeria Higgins, and “they cope by using their other senses to compensate for the hearing loss. It’s important to realize that these cats are unable to hear danger signals — such as cars or other animals — and need to be kept indoors.”
Deaf felines are sensitive to vibrations. They also make use of their sense of smell and “body language to communicate with us and other cats,” says Higgins.
Back in 1980, Susan E. Moon wrote Pritt (affiliate link), a book about a deaf cat. Pritt, a.k.a. Pretty Lady, was born to a stray mother that Moon and her partner adopted; of the 4 kittens, she was the only one born without hearing. Pritt adapted, mimicking “the actions of her family – arching her back, fluffing her fur, flattening her ears, and using her hind legs for games of ‘combat.’”
Her litter mates seemed to understand the situation and adjusted their play-fighting moves accordingly: “Because of her deafness, she was too easy to stalk from the rear; they soon learned to approach her from another angle.”
Social Interaction in a Feral Colony
This brings us to the cat colony part of the puzzle. Studies by David Macdonald and others in the early 1980s showed that cats living together in groups had a lot more social interaction than previously imagined.
We know that females have very involved relationships within a cat colony. But so do the males. “Dominant males have also been observed caring for kittens within their own colonies,” says Cats on Broadway Veterinary Hospital (CBVH). “They may share their food and groom younger cats, and have even been witnessed breaking up fights between kittens, separating them gently with one paw when a fight gets out of hand.”
Friendships occur in these colonies, with the cats being “more likely to bond with those who are related to them, but close friendships can form among non-related individuals as well.” These cats are called “preferred associates” and greet each other by touching noses.
Could Oliver have had a preferred associate within the Connecticut cat colony? Since his other senses were strong, would the ferals have paid much attention to his deafness? Or would they, like Pritt’s litter mates, have made allowances for him?
This adorable kitty has learned the hand signal for “sit”:
Approach With Care
Working with a feline like Oliver requires a different approach. First, you deal with the deafness. Don’t sneak up and startle the cat. The Cats Protection vets suggest that “you walk heavily so he can feel the vibrations.” Start using hand signals — and keep them consistent so your cat doesn’t get confused.
Then, bring in a cat tree or condo. If your deaf cat has a place to hide or view things from, he’ll probably feel more secure.
Once you’ve broken through the wall of deafness, you can start working with the emotional baggage that all strays bring with them. Consider working with a cat behaviorist, animal communicator or animal Reiki practitioner to help your new friend thrive.