What Is Deafness?
Deafness in cats is a temporary or permanent loss of hearing that can be caused by infection, certain drugs, ear mites, congenital defects, old age or injuries.
There are different types of deafness. One-sided or partial hearing loss can occur, or both ears may be affected. Deafness can originate in the ear structures, or caused by difficulties in the brain’s processing of neurosensory information.
What Causes Deafness in Cats?
Temporary hearing loss can be the result of mild infections or a side effect of certain drugs like amino-glycoside antibiotics and diuretics. Another common cause of temporary hearing loss in cats is ear mites, which damage the ear drum, resulting in inflammation of the middle ear. Tumors or polyps in the ear can also affect hearing.
Permanent hearing loss can be caused by old age, continued exposure to loud noises, injury or severe, untreated ear infections, especially those of the middle ear. All-white, blue-eyed cats are often born deaf.
When Should I Be Concerned About My Cat’s Hearing?
The following signs may indicate that your cat is suffering from hearing loss:
- He shows no response to outside stimuli, such as loud noises.
- He seems disoriented.
- He doesn’t know you’re in the room until you physically touch him.
- It is difficult to wake him up.
- He walks with an unbalanced gait.
If you suspect hearing loss, take a look at your cat’s ears. Reddened ear canals or black or yellow discharge could indicate a problem.
Note: You can test your cat’s hearing by stepping quietly behind him and clapping once loudly to check his response. Make certain your cat cannot see or sense your movement when you clap your hands. You may have to repeat this test more than once to get an accurate assessment.
How Is Deafness Diagnosed?
Please consult with your veterinarian, who will examine your cat for ear infections, ear mites, inflammation or injury. If a mild infection is detected, the vet may clean the ears and then teach you how to clean and medicate your cat’s ears at home.
To evaluate hearing, one common test is the BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response). During the procedure, small electrodes are placed under the skin to measure electrical activity in the ear and brain. This test is not painful, but your veterinarian may have to refer you to another veterinary expert, such as a neurologist, to have it performed.
How Can I Keep My Deaf Cat Safe?
- Never let a hearing-impaired cat outside. He will not be able to hear traffic or other perils, and will also lack the necessary reaction time to protect himself.
- Attach a bell to your cat’s collar so you can locate him if he does get out.
- Alert your cat to your comings and goings by touching him gently when you enter or leave a room.
- Do not startle a deaf animal.
- Try getting your cat’s attention with a loud stomp; the vibration on the floor should reach him. You can also throw a small ball or toy into the line of his sight.
- Deaf cats can learn sign language or be trained with lights or other devices.
How Can Deafness Be Prevented?
Regularly inspect your cat’s ear canals—they should appear pink and clean—and visit your vet immediately if you suspect a possible ear infection or hearing loss. Unless your veterinarian has shown you how to do so safely, do not use over-the-counter medications or insert cotton-tipped applicators into your pet’s ear canal—this could damage delicate structures.
How Is Deafness in Cats Treated?
If your cat has ear mites or an infection, your vet will prescribe an appropriate treatment method to eliminate the problem. Permanent hearing loss cannot be reversed, but cats are extremely adaptable and will use their other senses to compensate and continue to enjoy a good quality of life.