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 U.K., “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 cats 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.
Quite often, people are unaware of their cat’s hearing loss until the cat is completely deaf.
Since cats can compensate for early degrees of hearing loss, it may take a while for their people to pick up on symptoms of deafness in cats.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are 2 general categories of hearing loss in cats:
1. Conduction Deafness
Conduction deafness in cats occurs when sound waves don’t hit the nerves for hearing.
This type of deafness can be caused from inflammation of the outer ear, presence of tumors or ruptured ear drums. Some medications also promote this problem in a cat’s hearing ability.
If your cat is deaf at birth, or becomes deaf at a young age, it is usually because of a birth defect, especially in white kittens with blue eyes.
Breeds at high risk of congenital deafness include white Persians, white Turkish Angoras and Ragdolls.
2. Nerve Deafness
This can be either congenital or acquired through toxic drugs to the cat’s eyes or a tumorlike growth (neoplasia).
Problems with ear mites, tumors or infections can be easily detected and treated by your veterinarian.
Deafness in older cats is caused by a combination of nerve damage and the bones of the inner ear fusing together. Hearing loss due to aging requires the BAER response test.
3 Symptoms of Deafness in Cats
Symptoms may include:
- Unresponsive to everyday sounds
- Loud meowing
- Not responding to their name when you call
A cat going deaf shows several signs. If you notice they don’t come to you when you call, or if they don’t come running when you open that can of food, a visit to your vet’s office is in order.
Although hearing loss is not normally a serious condition in aging pets, you will want to be sure there is not another contributing condition.
While congenital deafness is irreversible, hearing impairments caused by inflammation of the ear have been successfully reversed through medications or surgery. Some animals have even been lucky enough to use a hearing aid, just as humans do.
Spaying is important if your cat is genetically deaf. A deaf female cat will call out louder when she is in heat, bringing male cats from all directions. Also, since she wouldn’t be able to hear her kittens, her mothering skills would be a bit limited.
A deaf cat can still be a great pet. They will just need a little more “I love you” signals.
This video shows Suzie, a cat who has lost her hearing over several years, still playing and being a part of her family:
- Veterinary Clinics of North America: Congenital deafness and its recognition
- The Complete Home Veterinary Guide: Nerve deafness in cats and dogs (book excerpt)
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Writer T.J. Banks contributed to this article.