Where hearing loss is gradual, it can be ages before you realize that Puss is deaf because the cat compensates for its lack of hearing. Where hearing loss is sudden, the cat may appear confused, irritable, over-attached to the owner, insecure or exhibit other ‘unusual’ behaviors in response to the sudden loss of this sense. Some deaf cats call out more often and more loudly (they cannot regulate their own volume) while others may become mute.
As with blindness, deafness varies in degree. In most older cats, hearing loss is gradual and not apparent until the later stages since cats do not always respond to being called. A cat with unilateral deafness may turn its head more often to increase the chance of picking up sounds with the hearing ear. Poor hearing makes cats defensive – they strike out first and ask questions later. Click your finger nails close to each ear in turn (make sure that it can’t see your hands though) – does it respond? Is it easily startled if you approach it from behind and touch it?
Some deaf cats learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used in distance control of dogs. At close range, sharp handclaps might provide enough vibration in the air to get the cat’s attention. Flashing a torch (flashlight), shone in the direction of the cat, on and off can be used to call it in from the garden at dusk (this also works with hearing cats) especially if it the flashing light is followed by a tasty incentive.
Deaf cats cannot hear warning sounds such as car engines, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If it goes outdoors, make sure it is wearing a collar (in case it is startled by something and bolts) and write ‘I AM DEAF’ on the collar to help people who wonder why the cat fails to react to shouts, car horns etc. A noisy bell on its collar will help you to locate its whereabouts when it is in motion. It is safest to confine a deaf cat to a safely fenced garden unless, like me, you are in a quiet area with no aggressive dogs and plenty of cat-lovers pre pared to take extra care.
A caring owner can think of other ways in which to help a disabled feline companion, but beware of being overprotective. A disabled cat still requires some semblance of independence to allow it to fulfill that inner ‘catness’ that we love in our feline friends. Most seem unaware of their disabilities and they do not expect life to make allowances, but a helping hand and some adjustments to their lifestyle and perhaps your own lifestyle will ensure a disabled cat has a healthy, happy and safe life.