As awareness and support for special needs cats grow, you might find yourself entertaining the idea of adopting one of these extraordinary felines into your own life. In searching for a new furry friend, you might fall in love with a deaf cat!
What do you need to know before adopting one of these special cats? What’s the best way to welcome a deaf kitty companion into your home? Do they need any specialized care the sets them apart from hearing cats?
Here’s the scoop on living with a deaf cat, and why you should welcome one into your heart and home.
The benefits of adopting a deaf cat
While deaf cats may have notoriously been left to languish in shelters even a decade or two ago, that’s no longer the case.
Entire animal rescues and nonprofits dedicated exclusively to taking in and finding homes for special needs cats have cropped up and continue to grow in popularity. Cats with disabilities like deafness are experiencing unprecedented outpourings of love and support from cat enthusiasts and animal lovers worldwide. Milo’s Sanctuary is one of our favorite special needs cat rescues!
That said, the benefits of adopting a deaf cat are many. Whenever you adopt a cat, you take action to save their life and give them a home, attention, security, and love. On top of that, adopting a deaf cat could empower and educate other cat and animal lovers to also consider adopting a special needs cat, especially when you show that your deaf cat is thriving and experiencing the best of life, just like a hearing cat!
What causes deafness in cats?
There are a few conditions that can cause deafness in cats.
Some causes are genetic and can cause a cat to lose their hearing later in life. In other cases cats can be born deaf, this is known as congenital deafness and it is considered a lifelong impairment or disability. There’s no cure for a cat who is born deaf.
In other cases, a cat can go deaf from chronic illnesses, ingesting poisons or toxins, receiving an injury to their eardrum, or as a secondary side effect of conditions like hyperthyroidism. (For more on hyperthyroidism in cats, check out our article on “Best Cat Foods for Cats with Hyperthyroidism“). Ototoxicity, or a loss of hearing due to medicine could also occur if certain ear medications are applied to a cat’s ear after their eardrum has been ruptured.
- Aural Atresia: an abnormality from birth where the ear canal develops with a full or partial blockage
Illnesses that can cause deafness
- Infestations of ear mites
- Yeast overgrowth inside the ear canal
- Tumors, polyps, and cancerous masses
- Bacteria from frequent ear infections
- A punctured or injured eardrum
If you’re worried that your cat has one of these illnesses, it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately.
Ear disorders that can cause deafness include
- Otitis: overproduction of ear wax from ear infections, mites, yeast, or bacteria Neural or nerve damage
In some cases, deafness or hearing loss can also be caused by a thickening eardrum or other changes in the middle and inner ear. This is a natural age-related condition for aging cats. Geriatric (or super senior) cats, like their elderly human counterparts, can become hard of hearing without any underlying medical issues or genetic cause. Read our article on “How to Care For an Older Cat” for expert advice on the special needs of senior cats.
How do cats’ ears work?
A cat’s hearing is one of their most finely tuned and acute senses. Cats have an outer, middle, and inner ear. These work together to help them process sound and noise and to keep balanced.
The outer ear has what’s known as a pinna. This part of the triangular part of your cat’s ears and leads directly to the ear canal. The outer ear picks up the sound waves and directs them into the middle ear. The outer ear has tiny folds of skin that form what look like little slits. These are called Henry’s Pockets and their function is a bit of a mystery!
Your cat’s middle ear is where their eardrum is along with membranes, hair cells, and tiny bones called ossicles that vibrate in response to sound waves. The ossicles trigger signals that go straight to your cat’s brain!
The inner ear also has nerve receptors that help your cat maintain their balance. This is also known as the vestibular system. This is where the cochlea is located.
A cat’s extraordinary ears can pick up high-frequency noises with pitches far beyond our own human capacity. Their ears are connected by 27 muscles that help them swivel their ears to catch noises to avoid danger and seek out their prey. They can rotate them a full 180 degrees!
Are white cats deaf?
There are some myths about deafness in cats that still endure. One of the biggest ones is that cats with blue eyes and white fur are deaf. Are white cats with blue eyes really at more risk of being deaf?
Surprisingly, yes! According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, hereditary deafness in white cats is very real and shockingly common.
Many white cats are born deaf, with studies finding that as many as 65 to 85% of white cats with blue eyes experience permanent hearing loss.
Weird fact, if a white cat has two different colored eyes and only one of them is blue, the cat will deaf in the ear that’s on the same side as their blue eye!
This is all due to feline genetics. White cats with blue eyes are more prone to develop what’s known as cochlear degeneration, an ear abnormality that they inherit from their feline family, or atresia, which is a birth defect that causes a blockage in their ear canal. The dominant white gene has been directly linked to cochlear degradation. This is the inner part of their ear that is responsible for hearing.
Deaf cats vs. hearing cats
The main way deaf cats are different from hearing cats is that they heavily rely on their other senses, like sight and smell, to navigate the world around them.
Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy says this means there’s the possibility that deaf cats can get overstimulated. It’s essential to get an understanding of your kitty’s body language and pick up on warning signs that they may be getting agitated or anxious.
Signs of overstimulation in cats include a twitching, jerky or thumping tail, ears twitching or flattening, the fur on their back bristling, and their eyes widening and unblinking. If you notice any of this behavior, step back and let your kitty calm down.
Aside from that, deaf cats are just as full of personality as their hearing feline friends. Being deaf has no impact on their playfulness, curiosity, affection, and energy!
Deaf cats typically don’t need any special veterinarian visits other than their normal annual or bi-annual check-up.
How will I know if my cat is deaf?
There are a few major signs that can let you know that your cat is deaf. These signs include:
- Unresponsive to you
- Loud meowing and vocalization
- Being easily startled
- Disorientation and confusion
- Frequent head shaking and ear scratching
- Unafraid of loud and sudden noises
How do I communicate with my deaf cat?
When you have a deaf cat, communicating with them becomes an exercise in creativity.
Since they’re unable to hear your voice, you have to interact with them in a way that they can pick up on with their other senses.
One of the best ways to do this is through noise vibration. Clapping your hands, tapping your toes on the floor, and drumming your fingers on a tabletop at a close range are all ways to get your deaf cat’s attention. These vibrations travel through the air, floor, and even furniture. Your deaf cat (like hearing cats) can sense these vibrations and air currents with their whiskers!
Sense of sight
You can also aim to use your deaf cat’s sight. Some cat parents use ASL (American Sign Language) or create their own gestures inspired by signs! Good signs to start with are ones you’ll use daily: dinner time, come here, hello, and I love you make great starter signs.
To quickly catch your deaf cat’s attention without startling them, you can use lights. Try flicking a room’s lights on and off or using a laser pointer or flashlights. If using either a laser pointer or a flashlight be sure to keep play sessions short and to provide a physical toy or object that your cat can “kill” at the end. This helps your cat stay happy and engaged without getting stressed or frustrated.
You could alternatively use toys! Waving a wand toy with ribbons or rolling one of their favorite toys into their line of sight, like a catnip mouse or a squishy foam ball, also works.
How to train a deaf cat
Training a deaf cat to understand things like when it’s time to eat is no different than teaching a hearing cat! Patience, positive reinforcement, and persistence are all you need.
Research has found that cats can read human facial expressions and react to our emotional cues! So showing exaggerated happiness, sadness, and curiosity, especially in combination with hand gestures and your body language, is one of the best ways you can communicate with and train a deaf cat.
Praising your kitty and giving them pets and their favorite treat (aka positive reinforcement) is also a fantastic way to train your deaf cat.
Don’t underestimate the power of routine either! Cats are creatures of habit. They’ll quickly catch on to mealtimes and daily activities.
If you have a multi-cat household, chances are your deaf cat will also learn a lot from them and won’t need much guidance or intervention from you.
How do I wake a deaf cat up?
If your deaf cat is sleeping and you need to wake them up, it’s best not to touch them or stroke them. This can easily scare them, and they can accidentally bite or scratch you. It’s best to make use of vibrations again as you approach your cat and gently tap some of the surfaces that are around them so they can “feel” your presence.
You could also use a laser pointer or flip the room’s light switch on and off to trigger their visual senses. Just be sure to not shine the light directly into your cat’s eyes.
Do deaf cats meow a lot?
How frequently a deaf cat meows depends on the personality of the cat or its breed. For example, Siamese cats are known to be especially chatty. Some deaf cats are very vocal and very loud at that. Because they’re unable to hear themselves, they cannot regulate the volume of their meows like hearing cats are.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some deaf cats meow very infrequently. Or, they opt not to meow at all and go mute.
Is it safe to let your deaf cat go outside?
No, it’s not safe to let your deaf cat roam about outdoors. Unless you have a safe enclosure, like a catio or cat harness and leash to physically take your cat outside with you, keeping your deaf cat indoors is the safest place for them to be.
Lacking a sense of hearing makes deaf cats vulnerable to dangers and threats outdoors like speeding cars, aggressive dogs, other cats looking for a fight, and even people who may harm them. Keeping deaf cats indoors is your responsibility as a cat parent.
Tips for deaf cat adopters
It doesn’t take a whole lot to accommodate a deaf cat. All kitties need an engaging, stimulating environment, plenty of affection and attention, and to have their basic needs met.
The best tip for adopting a deaf cat is to keep in mind that above all, they’re a cat first and deaf second.
Giving your deaf cat a household where they have access to window perches and scratching posts. Make time to play with them daily, and providing other indoor enrichment items and activities like cat furniture, cat grass, and cat water fountains are all ways you can spice up indoor living. If you have space and the budget to build a catio or a secure outdoor enclosure, that’s also a wonderful treat!
The next best tip is to be aware that because your deaf cat is missing one of their primary senses (hearing), you’re going to need to be a bit more creative, patient, and persistent when you communicate and interact with them.
Coming up with routines and finding ways to communicate with your cat will help strengthen the bond between you and your feline friend and give them a happy and healthy life!
Key points on adopting a deaf cat
Welcoming a deaf cat into your heart and home is one of the kindest and loving things you can do as a cat parent. Special needs kitties like deaf cats are special in more than one way. And they can always use more advocates in their corner.
Your enthusiasm and commitment towards your deaf cat and the deep bond you share can inspire and empower more people to adopt a deaf cat of their own and keep the cycle of compassion and understanding going.
And isn’t that what we cat parents are here for?