Has your previously responsive cat stopped paying attention to you when you call them? It’s easy to assume that this is just your pet being stubborn and belligerent. It’s quite possible, however, that your cat cannot hear you any longer.
Critical nerves in feline ears deteriorate as they age, and hearing loss is the result. However, your cat’s hearing loss could be temporary, caused by blockages or sickness. Consult a vet and conduct testing before assuming that your cat is permanently deaf.
If a cat does lose their hearing, it’s not the end of the world. Deaf felines can still live a full and contented life with lifestyle adjustments. This guide will discuss hearing loss in senior cats, and how you can reduce the effect.
Do Cats Lose Their Hearing When They Get Old?
A cat beyond the age of 7 years is considered to be senior. Despite this, a healthy cat can still live for a decade or more. This means that cats spend more time in their senior years than any other phase of life. Loss of hearing in cats can often accompany senior status, so it’s something that must be prepared for in the future.
Some cats lose their hearing very gradually and, for others, it happens almost overnight. While the former scenario sounds like it can be saddening for a cat, it’s preferable. It means that your cat will gradually adapt to relying more upon their other senses. If it happens slowly enough, your cat may even fail to notice that they have gone deaf.
Sudden hearing loss is harder for a cat to cope with. This could be caused by a trauma to the ear, or through a medical concern. Your cat will still adjust, but it may take a little more time. Remember, in such a situation, your pet will need you more than ever.
The good news is that sudden hearing loss may be treatable. The gradual erosion of your cat’s hearing is an unavoidable result of aging. Overnight hearing loss due to sickness or injury may be reversible through medication or surgery.
If you believe that your cat is losing their hearing, run some tests at home. We will discuss how you can do this. If you still have reason to believe that your cat is deaf, see a vet. They will be able to run other, more thorough examinations. Even if your cat is deaf, stay calm. With a few lifestyle adjustments, they’ll still be perfectly content.
How Does Hearing Loss in Senior Cats Happen?
The gradual declining of a cat’s hearing is known as presbycusis. This condition gradually erodes the hair nerve cells over time, which makes hearing increasing difficult. It typically begins with higher frequencies, and gradually prevents any sound at all from registering.
Presbycusis is related to aging, and it cannot be stopped or reversed. It’s the same condition that impacts upon humans and other animals. As humans – and our pets – grow older, these nerve hairs wear away.
It can be brought on early through prolonged exposure to loud noise, but it cannot be slowed down. On the plus side, developing presbycusis means your cat is enjoying a long and healthy life. This condition will not present itself in young cats, unless enforced.
Feline hyperthyroidism and hearing loss are also intrinsically linked. Hyperthyroidism is very common in older cats, and deafness is one of the symptoms. Other warning signs include:
- Inexplicable weight loss despite a healthy appetite
- Bursts of hyperactivity followed by lethargy and weakness
- Vomiting and Diarrhea
- Increased thirst and urination
- Dull, listless fur
- Trouble breathing
Hyperthyroidism is caused by the thyroid gland, found in a cat’s neck, becoming overactive. This can be very dangerous, as in addition to deafness the condition can cause major organ failure.
Speak to a vet if you suspect that your cat has an overactive thyroid. If caught early enough, the condition can be treated with medication. In some cases, however, surgery to remove the thyroid gland may be necessary.
What Causes Sudden Deafness in Cats?
If your cat is still young, their hearing loss may have another cause. Other common explanations for a cat to lose their hearing include:
Repeated Exposure to Loud Noise
It’s no secret that prolonged loud noise can deafen a human. Cats have better hearing than us, which leaves them at even greater risk.
While humans hear sounds between ranges of 64-23,000 Hz, cats pick up noise between 45-64,000 Hz. In addition to this, feline anatomy is designed to draw sound directly into the ear canal.
Protect your cat’s hearing. Temporarily rehome them with a friend if you are undergoing loud home improvements. Also, avoid positioning their bed too close to a TV or stereo.
If a fall or fight damages your cat’s inner ear, deafness can follow. Cats generally do an excellent job of protecting their ears when in danger.
You should be vigilant about checking them, however. If you have any reason to believe that your cat damaged their ears, see a vet.
Tumor in the Ear
If your cat has a tumor or cyst in their ear, it can block the canal. This, in turn, will block any sound from entering. This will need to be removed surgically. Chemotherapy may also be required if the tumor is cancerous.
Excess Build-up of Ear Wax
Similar to a tumor or cyst, wax in the ear canal can prevent sound penetrating. Do not attempt to treat this at home. Speak to your vet. They will clean out your cat’s ear safely, usually under sedation.
Cats are prone to ear infections. This is usually a result of tiny mites setting up home in their ear canal. This causes inflammation in the animal’s ear.
If you find brown discharge in your cat’s ear alongside apparent deafness, it’s likely an infection. This can usually be treated with a course of antibiotics.
Consumption of Toxins
Many household products and plants that are toxic to cats can cause deafness. This may be temporary, or it can be permanent if left untreated. If your cat has consumed something toxic, seek immediate medical attention.
Side Effects of Medication
Many medications or treatments can cause sudden deafness in cats as a side effect. If your cat has started a new medication and is unable to hear, see your vet. A change in medical treatment will be necessary.
We have already discussed hyperthyroidism and deafness in cats. However, there are many other health complaints that may impact upon the ear. A vet will be able to run tests that eliminate or confirm suspicions of additional sickness.
Some of these issues are reversible, and others not. If you get an early diagnosis, your pet is much more likely to make a full recovery.
Is My Cat Deaf or Just Ignoring Me?
Sometimes, it can be hard to know if your cat is deaf or just being belligerent. As we know, felines do not see humans as their masters. This means they do not live to please us, and won’t always react to commands. Cats will particularly enjoy playing deaf when you’re telling them not to do something.
One way to check your cat’s hearing is to call their name, and observe their reaction. Do your cat’s ears prick up, and their head turn? Does their tail swish, or their body tense up? Any of these reactions suggest that your cat did hear you. They consider what they are currently doing to be more important than whatever you want.
Even if your cat does not react in such a way, they may not be deaf. If a cat is anxious or hunting, they’ll ignore any external stimulus. Check for any signs of a broken ornament or a bathroom accident. Your cat may just be worried that they’re in trouble. With this in mind, other amateur tests will check your cat’s hearing.
Symptoms of Deafness in Cats
As it is not always clear if your cat is deaf, or just pretending to be. With this in mind, look out for the common symptoms associated with feline hearing impairment.
According to Wag Walking, the common symptoms of cat deafness include:
- Lack of response to calling their name, or other loud noises. This may be part of your cat’s nature. If they usually respond to the doorbell or cabinets doors opening and closing, however, pay attention.
- Ignoring favored trigger sounds. Most cats are food-focused. The sound of a tin opening, or a treat bag rustling, should bring them running. Failure to do so can often be a warning sign.
- They are meowing very loudly. This suggests that your cat is confused by the fact that they can’t hear themselves speak.
- They are sleeping deeper than usual. Cats retain a state of high alert, even while they’re sleeping. If loud noise occurs around your dozing cat and they remain indifferent, this is not normal.
- Pawing at the ears, or redness around the ear. This suggests that your cat is living with an ear infection or another complaint.
- Seemingly being shocked and startled upon seeing you. Cats don’t tend to rely on their vision. They know what is going on around them due to their excellent hearing. If this skill is taken from them, they can easily be surprised until they adapt.
In addition to these symptoms, deaf cats tend to be more affectionate. If your cat rubs themselves against you more than usual, check for signs of deafness. However, ensure that that they are not in heat before you worry.
How Can I Test My Cat’s Hearing at Home?
You should take your cat to a professional if you suspect deafness. This is not something you can cure at home. You will also require advice as to how to proceed if the problem is irreversible.
There are, however, a handful of tests that you can conduct before your appointment. If you conduct these tests, your vet will have more information to work with:
- Stand out of your cat’s line of sight, and make a loud hissing sound. A hiss is the universal sound of danger for felines. Governed by their survival instinct, cats will usually react. It’s important that you’re out of sight. However, a cat will likely attack the alleged danger.
- Tap out a drumming sound on a cardboard box. If a friend or a family member has a bongo you can borrow, so much the better. These rhythmic poundings will test whether your cat can hear low frequencies.
- Jangle a bunch of keys or a wind chime over your cat’s head. Ideally, do this while they are napping. This will determine if your cat can hear higher frequencies.
- Tear a piece of paper behind a cat’s back. This sudden noise should elicit a reaction.
Again, allow us to be clear – these are not foolproof. Cats can be very, very stubborn when they want to be! You will always need confirmation from a vet or specialist before diagnosing deafness.
Also, don’t do anything drastic. Standing over your cat and clattering two saucepans like cymbals will undoubtedly make a loud noise. If your cat is not deaf, however, you will scare the life out of them. What’s more, you could actually cause hearing damage with an experiment. That defeats the object of what you set out to do.
Is My Cat’s Hearing Loss Hereditary?
Some breeds of cats are more likely to suffer from hereditary, or congenital, deafness. This typically manifests at birth, or very soon after. Cats with white fur and at least one blue are at the highest risk. Breeds of cat that this could apply to include:
- American Shorthair
- American Wirehair
- British Shorthair
- Cornish Rex
- Devon Rex
- Exotic Shorthair
- Maine Coon
- Norwegian Forest Cat
- Oriental Shorthair
- Scottish Fold Cat
- Turkish Angora
If your cat has white fur and displays signs of deafness, get them to a vet. Genetic testing is not possible to check for deafness. However, vets can refer you to a specialist for a brainstem evoked auditory response (BAER) test. This will confirm if your cat is living with hearing loss.
What Does BAER Testing for Cats Involve?
A BAER test is pain-free, non-invasive and should not involve anesthesia. Some mild sedation may be necessary if your pet is reluctant to cooperate, however.
Your cat will be fitted with many earbuds that play a range of sounds. A specialist will then observe the brainwave activity that follows. If your cat’s brain does not acknowledge these sounds, it will confirm deafness. This will take the shape of a flat line on the tester’s screen. If your cat is detecting sound, their brainwaves will spike.
There are three possible results for a BAER test:
- Unaffected. Your cat has perfect hearing in both their ears.
- Unilateral Affected. Your cat is deaf in one ear, but has normal hearing in the other.
- Bilateral Affected. Your cat is completely deaf in both ears.
The entire test should not take any longer than fifteen minutes. Expect to pay between $60-100. You should also notify your pet insurance provider if you are taking the test.
Your cat may need further medical assistance based on the results. The more information your insurer has, the likelier they are to rule favorably on a claim.
Is a White Cat More at Risk of Hereditary Deafness?
This is not the case at all. Not all white cats are certain to experience hereditary deafness. The whole purpose of BAER testing is to determine whether this is the case.
Even if the cat is likely to lose their hearing, they’re deserving of a good home. If you fall in love with a white cat, that happens to be deaf, don’t discriminate. You can still enjoy a happy life together.
Exercise caution before purchasing a white kitten from a breeder that has not BAER-tested them, however. Reputable breeders will be aware of this necessity, considering it part of their duty of care. Cats at risk of deafness should undergo BAER testing between five and six weeks of age.
Failure to take this step suggests that the breeder in question is unprofessional at best. This means that your cat could be prone to many other health concerns that have not been addressed.
Can I Reverse My Cat’s Hearing Loss?
This depends on what is causing the problem. If it’s a medical complaint, then the hearing loss can be treated and potentially reversed. If it’s a matter of old age and nerve degeneration, however, nothing can be done. To summarize the treatment options open to your pet:
- If the deafness is a side effect of medication, the prescription will be stopped and replaced.
- If your cat’s hearing is blocked by a cyst or tumor, this will be removed surgically.
- If your cat’s ears are blocked with wax, this will be removed under sedation. Their ears will also be thoroughly cleaned.
- If an ear infection prevents your cat from hearing, they’ll be given a course of antibiotics.
If your cat is losing their hearing through any other reason, no treatment is available. Discuss how to proceed with your vet. You will need to help your cat adapt to life without hearing.
Some owners consider a disabled cat too much work, and take them to a shelter. This is cruel, and wholly unnecessary. You would not abandon a family member when they struggle with their hearing.
Can My Cat Wear a Hearing Aid?
A German audiologist named Hans-Rainer Kurz spent several years working on a hearing aid for felines. While he was theoretically successful, hearing aids are troublesome for deaf cats.
- Hearing aids magnify vibrations to make sounds louder. This means that they only really work on a cat that is losing their hearing. If a cat is deaf, they will not pick up any sounds to be magnified.
- Cats are very fussy about having things in their ear. Most felines will not tolerate such a foreign object, tearing it out as the first opportunity.
- Hearing aids are irresistible toys to cats. They’re soft and chewy, and they vibrate constantly. A cat is more likely to destroy a hearing aid than wear it. This can be very dangerous for them.
In addition to all of this, there is also a cost implication to consider. Specially molded feline hearing aids do not come cheap. Discuss your options with a vet if you are determined to consider a hearing aid. Just don’t place too much hope in this being a solution.
How Will My Cat React to Going Deaf?
This depends on how gradually the hearing loss occurs.
If a cat experiences a sudden onset of deafness, it will be quite jarring. Cats are used to listening out for their surroundings, and acting accordingly. When suddenly denied this ability, your cat may become a little anxious.
This may manifest itself as aggressive behavior, so be prepared for this. Remember, your cat is frightened and acting out of self-preservation. A little patience will be required.
Some cats lose their hearing very gradually, though. In such instances, they may not even notice. These felines will have a longer period of time to adjust to the change in circumstances.
These cats learn to rely on their other senses throughout their hearing deterioration. This doesn’t mean that you will not need to make adjustments for your cat. They are just less likely to panic and behave with hostility.
Will My Cat Still Recognize Me if They are Deaf?
A study published in Animal Cognition found that cats recognize owners from their voices, not faces. Does this mean that a deaf cat will no longer be able to recognize its owner?
The short answer is no. While cats use voices as their first port of recognition, it’s not their only one. Deaf cats still have other senses – including a finely attuned sense of smell. Your scent will be unique and unmistakable to your pet. There is no need to worry that they’ll start to consider you a stranger.
How to Help Your Cat Cope with Hearing Loss
If your cat has lost their hearing, do not panic. This does not mean that their quality of life will reduce drastically. Cats use their ears to experience the world, but they’re only part of the sensory package. There is no need to take any drastic, irreversible action.
If your cat is deaf, make some adjustments to keep them as comfortable as you can. Some of the changes that you can make include:
- Keep your cat indoors. If your cat loses their hearing, the world outside can become very dangerous. Your cat will not be able to hear territorial rivals, or oncoming traffic. To protect your cat, keep them inside and safe.
- Affix an ID tag. No matter how determined you, cats may make a play for freedom and escape the house. To add a layer of protection, affix an ID tag that explains the feline is deaf. Contact information is also advisable, so you can be notified if your cat is found.
- Affix a belled collar. A deaf cat will not be able to hear you call them. This can lead to some anxiety if your cat has seemingly gone missing, Attach a belled collar to their neck, and you will always know where your cat is. The sound cannot annoy your pet, as they won’t be able to hear it.
- Do Not Startle Your Cat. A cat that cannot hear you coming will be easily spooked. This will lead to your cat acting in self-defense, potentially clawing and biting.
- Explain Your Cat’s Condition. If you live with children, explain very clearly to them that their cat is deaf. An excitable young person that seemingly appears out of nowhere can terrify a cat. This will mean that they will instinctively attack. Ensure that children understand that deaf cats need to be treated a little differently.
- Communicate with Hand Signals. This will take a great deal of patience, as cats do not understand hand signals naturally. However, you may be able to teach your cat basic gestures. Make a hand signal, and offer your cat a treat. Over time, you can train them to associate gestures with behavior.
- Stick to a Schedule. Routine is important to all cats, but especially so when they’re deaf. Remember, your cat cannot hear you announce that it’s dinnertime. They will rely on being fed at a certain time. Get your cat into a routine around feeding. Pick a time that suits you. Play with them for a few minutes to get their attention. Then guide them to their food bowl using a laser pointer. After a while, your cat will associate their evening play with dinner.
Finally, never awaken your deaf cat from a nap. If your cat has lost their hearing, they’ll likely sleep deeply. Shaking them awake will spark a panicked response. This is when the claws and teeth appear again. If your deaf cat is sleeping on your favorite armchair, leave them to it. It’s safer for everybody in the longer term.
Will a Deaf Cat Give Birth to Deaf Kittens?
This depends on the cause of the feline’s deafness. If the lack of hearing is congenital, then it can always be passed on. It’s important to be up-front about this if you are engaging in a planned breeding program.
If your cat loses their hearing through age or trauma, however, it’s different. There is no reason to suspect that any offspring will be deaf as a result. Cats have given birth, or impregnate females, at any age.
Be mindful of the pressures you will be putting on your cat during this time, however. There are numerous risks to a geriatric feline pregnancy. A deaf female may also struggle to nurture her offspring appropriately. Kitten are hugely reliant on their mother’s milk, and make noise whenever they need food or warmth. If your cat cannot hear this, it could jeopardize the young cat’s lives.
If your cat is deaf, do not immediately start looking for rehoming options. Rehoming will lead to stress and anxiety onto the poor animal. What’s more, a deaf cat is not a burden.
A feline that has lost their hearing is more than capable of living a happy life. You’ll need to make some small adaptations, and be vigilant about protecting their safety.
Don’t turn your back on your pet when they need you most. Show your cat how much you care by helping them through this period of adversity. They will quickly adapt, and more than repay you in affection and gratitude.