Cats are known for their incredible sense of hearing, but like any other animal out there, they can lose it as they age, or they can be born deaf.
In today’s article, we’re looking at the most common reasons why cats can end up being deaf, how you can tell if your feline friend is deaf, and how to better care for a deaf cat in general.
Can cats be born deaf?
Deafness can be congenital in some cases. For example, if the kittens become exposed to toxins or even viral diseases when they are still in their mother’s womb, they can develop a range of degenerations, including those pertaining to the ear.
Deafness can also be hereditary, so genetically transmitted from the parents to the litter. A certain gene in cats causes white and blue-eyed cats to be partially or completely deaf.
Some breeds just have a higher likelihood of being born deaf (especially if they are also white and blue-eyed), such as the following:
- Maine Coon
- Scottish Fold
- Devon & Cornish Rex
- Turkish Angora
If a cat is not born with deafness, then it can be developed during their life by a variety of factors, all of which will be discussed below.
What can cause deafness in cats?
- Old age
Any animal or human will lose their hearing as they become older and older. By the time they are considered seniors, cats might have lost a good part of their sense of hearing, but in some cases, they will still hear better compared to most people.
Deafness due to old age is expected to happen gradually, though, and shouldn’t necessarily be related to any other pathologies. Unfortunately, as your cat grows old, the flexibility of the inner ear structures decreases, which leads to the tissues losing their ability to vibrate as well (and transmit sound).
- Medications and toxins
Some drugs have deafness as a side effect, and most of them are either in the diuretic or antibiotic category. Despite them being extremely potent and good at what they are supposed to do, these medicines do come with adverse reactions – your vet should advise you of the risks before they initiate a certain treatment for your cat’s condition.
Even basic antiseptics such as chlorhexidine can lead to a cat losing their hearing, not to mention very common antibiotics such as gentamicin or diuretics such as furosemide.
As for toxins, a wide range of household cleaning products can end up inside a cat’s ear – even as a result of grooming.
Heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, or lead, can also lead to deafness in cats.
- Ear-related pathologies
The most common auricular pathologies that can cause deafness in this species naturally pertain to the structures of the inner, middle, and external ear. When left untreated, even an external canal infection can lead to deafness.
As a pet owner, it is important for you to pay attention to the clinical signs that your cat might show and that might be related to the health of their ears. Cats are quite asymptomatic in general, but prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case.
Other ear-related pathologies that can cause deafness are ear bone damage (which can occur in the event of an accident), tumors, or inflammatory polyps. If a blockage has been caused by a foreign body or a growth, it can be removed – but the hearing can be recovered partially or completely depending on the amount of damage that was sustained.
- General pathologies
Some conditions might not affect the ear directly but could lead to the cat becoming deaf. These range from hypothyroidism to infectious diseases or nerve damage.
Symptoms of deafness in cats
The most obvious sign that can be seen in deaf cats is unresponsiveness to any sort of sound. Partially deaf cats might be able to detect the presence of a sound or even a specific frequency, but might be incapable of telling its exact source (in terms of direction).
While it is true that cats don’t respond to being called by name as their canine counterparts do, they should definitely respond to sounds, such as a can of cat food being opened or even a noisy toy being used behind them.
Deaf cats tend to have a much louder meow compared to their healthy counterparts – they cannot hear their own voice, and if they do hear it partially, they might think that they need to be louder. They also have a higher likelihood of becoming scared of sounds or objects that they think have appeared out of nowhere.
As for cats that haven’t been born deaf, they can show a variety of other symptoms, especially if they are connected to diseases. Here are a few examples:
- Pawing at the ears
- Local pain or inflammation
- Bad smell coming from the ear canal
- Disorientation (along with the cerebellum, the ear has an important role in maintaining a cat’s balance)
- Ear discharge
Diagnosis of deafness in cats
Your vet can use a range of tests to determine if your cat is deaf in both or one of their ears and what the cause of the deafness might be. They could use an otoscope to look at the inside of your pet’s ears and tell if there are any lesions, wax accumulations, discharge, foreign bodies, growths, or anything else present.
Additional tests for diagnosing general pathologies such as hypothyroidism can be used and they range from regular blood tests to more complex ones.
Can feline deafness be treated?
If the cause has produced temporary deafness, then your cat might be lucky enough to be treated for the pathology – and might recover, if not all of their hearing, most of it. But if the deafness is congenital or hereditary or has been caused by old age, there is no specific treatment available.
Tumors or growths can be removed surgically.
For infections, local and general antibiotics could prove their worth. Damage to the ear tissues can sometimes be permanent.
As a species, cats rarely respond well to wearing hearing aids, which means that you, as a pet parent, will need to adjust to your cat’s deafness instead of the other way around being the case.
Prevention & living with a deaf cat
If your cat wasn’t born deaf, there are some ways to delay and prevent them from becoming deaf for as long as possible. Make sure that their ear hygiene is as good as possible – a clean living environment makes it more difficult for cats to develop ear infections. Indoor cats have a lower likelihood of developing them, too, especially compared to their outdoor counterparts.
If you notice any pawing or scratching at their ears, go to the veterinarian as soon as possible – the quicker you get treatment for your cat’s ear pathology, the lower the chances of them becoming deaf.
As for lifestyle, deaf cats are easier to scare, so you’ll have to approach your pet gently. Play with your cat using visual toys instead of those that make sounds.
Try to teach your pet some visual cues so that they know when their meal time is approaching when it’s time to play, or when cuddling might be in order. Most cats learn quickly, so you shouldn’t have any issues with these techniques.