It is sometimes hard to know if feline deafness is selective or medical. Cats often ignore commands or instructions when it suits them. If your cat is getting older, have its hearing checked as older cats can lose their hearing.
All cats that are older than 10 years will experience some degree of hearing loss. Some end up completely deaf. Sound waves vibrate within a cat’s eardrum and send a message to the brain. Over time, the nerves within a cat’s inner ear degrade and deteriorate. When these nerves cease operating to capacity, this becomes increasingly difficult.
You can test your cat’s hearing at home. Cats are sound-focused animals, so they’ll usually respond to aural stimulus. If your cat seems indifferent to all sounds, it is likely going deaf.
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Do Cats Lose Hearing as They Age?
As a cat grows older, it will undergo a range of physical changes. The limbs will grow stiffer as the cat grows increasingly arthritic. The cat will sleep more often, as movement and grooming become increasingly exhausting. The cat will also experience degradation to its senses.
Hearing loss is common in senior cats. While some breeds are genetically predisposed to deafness, this will manifest early in life. For most cats, a loss of hearing is a gradual decline in performance of the ears.
Cats have sensitive ears and excellent hearing. Typical cat hearing range is the broadest of all mammals, according to Hearing Research. Cats detect high-pitched sounds, such as a mouse’s squeak, without sacrificing hearing of lower, baritone noises.
As the cat grows older, it will struggle to hear these sounds. You may or may not notice this. Some cats adjust to hearing loss, behaving the same as they always did. Routine can go a long way with other cats. Others may behave erratically or even aggressively.
Why Do Cats Go Deaf?
As explained by Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, cats hear by detecting air vibrations. The vibrations stimulate the eardrum, aka the tympanum. This causes three bones in the cat’s ear (the incus, malleus, and stapes) to vibrate.
These bones, in turn, cause tiny hairs in the cat’s inner ear to vibrate. This is what stimulates the cat’s hearing response. As a cat grows older, these hairs degrade through use. Eventually, they will cease functioning altogether.
Unfortunate though this is, it’s a natural part of the aging process. There is no way to stop a cat from losing its hearing in senior years. You can delay the process, though. Do not expose a cat to unnecessary loud noise. This will speed up wear and tear to the ear.
With such delicate ears, feline hearing can be temporarily or permanently damaged by sound. Keep this in mind when making use of television sets or music stereos. Never house a cat’s bed or territory close to anything loud.
Even if you wrap your cat in cotton wool though, it will eventually lose hearing. Cats rely heavily on their ears for hunting and protection. This is why some cats skittish. They are reacting to sounds that you cannot hear.
Thankfully, hearing loss through old age is a gradual decline. This gives your cat time to adapt. The cat will understand that its hearing is fading and learn to rely on other senses. If your cat appears suddenly deafened, the root cause is unlikely to be old age.
Cat Hearing Problem Causes
An elderly cat’s hearing loss may not just be caused by seniority. Check for other explanations before assuming your cat is just old. You may yet be able to restore some, or all, of your cat’s hearing. External causes of hearing loss must be resolved quickly to prevent permanent damage.
Ear Canal Blockages
One potential explanation for a cat to temporarily lose hearing is a blockage to the ear. A foreign object trapped in the ear canal will muffle sound. This could be a small object such as marble, or even a blade of grass.
Ear wax is another common blockage in cats. Take a look at your cat’s ears. If they are a pale shade of pink, with no discoloration, wax build-up is unlikely. Shine a torch inside the cat’s ear to be sure. If your cat has earwax, mites will surely follow. This can cause distress.
Polyps are another explanation for temporary hearing loss. Polyps are benign tissue growths in a cat’s ears and throat. While more commonly associated with kittens, senior cats can develop polyps.
Ear polyps are typically removed using traction. A vet will grasp the polyp and tug it. This will usually just be a short-term solution, though. Ear polyps can, and likely will, reoccur. You will need to be vigilant about observing your cat.
While polyps are not directly harmful, they should be investigated. Left untreated, a polyp can grow in size and further impact hearing. What’s more, a malign tumor could be mistaken for a polyp. Always have a polyp reviewed and removed for your cat’s safety and comfort.
Bacterial ear infections can also plague cats, causing temporary deafness. These infections will usually result in erratic behavior. Your cat will tilt its head and scratch at its ears near-constantly.
Ear infections can cause a swelling in the ear canal, restricting the ability to hear. Infections can also lead to discharge, which clogs the ear. Mites may then nest in the ear canal, causing a secondary concern.
Ear infections are typically treated with bacterial drops. Seek medical advice to receive a formal diagnosis and treatment plan. Do not leave an ear infection to heal itself. The problem will intensify, rendering your cat permanently deaf when this could have been avoided.
Symptoms of Deafness in Cats
There are a number of signs of hearing loss in cats. The first is that the cat will become increasingly loud while meowing. The cat cannot hear itself, so it vocalizes at an increasingly high volume. The cat may also become clingy as it is unnerved by its inability to hear.
In addition, the cat will stop responding to previously favored noises. The sound of a refrigerator door opening or a can opener, for example. A skittish cat may also become more relaxed about external noises, including sirens or car horns.
The cat may also change its routines. A deaf cat may not immediately greet an owner that returns home. It did not hear you come in. Deaf cats can also become aggressive when touched. The cat is acting in surprise and panic as it did not hear you approach.
Senior cats already sleep a great deal. Deaf cats will sleep longer and deeper than usual, though. The cat is not being woken up by external noise that would ordinarily disturb its slumber. In this instance, the cat must never be woken up with a shake. Leave the cat be.
These behaviors alone are not always sufficient to diagnose hearing loss in a cat. Felines can act strangely for a number of reasons. Not responding to being called alone is not grounds to question a cat’s hearing. The animal may just be busy or stubborn.
Any change in cat behavior merits investigation, though. You can test your cat’s hearing at home. This is advisable as part of your senior cat’s general healthcare routine.
How to Check Your Cat’s Hearing
If you suspect that a senior cat is losing its hearing, conduct tests. These invariably involve making noises behind or around the cat. Felines will always react to unexpected noises. If your cat is hard of hearing, it will remain indifferent.
Approach your cat from behind, remaining undetected. Do not attempt to handle your cat. Any unexpected movements will spark a fear-based response. This will likely result in personal injury.
Once stationed behind your cat, make a noise that the cat would ordinarily react to. Examples of this include:
- Squeezing a noisy toy to elicit a squeak
- Tearing a sheet of paper in half
- Hissing – cats are hardwired to treat this as a sound of danger
- Jangle a set of keys
- Scrunch tin foil or a similarly noisy item
These tests create a varied range of sounds. This way, you can check if your cat responds to high or low pitches, or neither. In the latter case, the cat is clearly completely deaf. If the cat responds to some noises but not others, hearing loss may be gradual and underway.
The key is to avoid creating vibrations when you conduct these tests. These can be picked up by the cat’s paw pads and whiskers. Do not clap your hands or use an airhorn. In addition to creating vibrations, these sounds risk damaging the ears of cats that can hear.
Once you have exhausted home testing, a vet will perform the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test on your cat. The BAER test is non-invasive and non-painful. It will take around fifteen minutes to complete.
A vet will connect a headset to your cat’s ears and play a range of sounds. As per the Canadian Veterinary Journal, these are usually clicks of varying tones. Monitoring brainwaves, a vet can if your cat is hearing and responding to these noises.
It is advisable to request a regular BAER test for senior cats. Once your cat reaches double figures, it should be assessed at least once a year. By regularly assessing an older cat’s hearing, you will be forewarned of any potential deafness.
If your cat has lost its hearing through old age, the process cannot be reversed. You will have a formal diagnosis, though. This means you can take appropriate action to keep your deaf cat comfortable and happy.
Caring for a Deaf Cat
Hearing loss does not need to ruin a senior cat’s life. This is a gradual process. Your cat will likely have made adjustments. All the same, you will need to make lifestyle adjustments for your cat’s safety and comfort.
Announce your presence non-verbally when you enter a room. The best way to do this is by stamping your feet. This will create vibrations that your cat’s paws and whiskers can detect. Your cat will know you are around and is unlikely to be startled by your appearance.
If it is an option, remove carpets from your home when your cat loses hearing. Hardwood floors create clearer vibrations that are easier to detect. This is not possible, pair stomping with visual cues.
This involves turning light switches on and off when you enter a room. Your cat will quickly learn what this means. This ensures that your cat never be taken by surprise. This, in turn, reduces the risk of bites or scratches from a frightened cat.
If you have other pets, consider keeping them separate from a deaf cat. Young cats, in particular, may clash. If a playful kitten jumps on a deaf cat’s back, a fight will break out. The deaf cat will scrap for all it is worth, potentially hurting a younger feline.
More significant change will be required for outdoor cats. It is not safe for a deaf cat to roam the streets. The cat will not hear oncoming traffic and senior cats have slower reflexes. This could result in a fatal accident. Keep your cat contained to the home and the yard.
If your cat is lucky enough to reach old age, it will invariably lose its hearing. As long as you care for your cat appropriately, this need not be a problem. Learn the warning signs of feline deafness and adjust your cat’s lifestyle appropriately.