Feline hearing loss contributes to twitching (hypersensitivity to noise vibrations)

Deaf stray cat
Deaf stray cat. Photo by Nathan Forget
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Hypersensitivity to vibrations by deaf cats needs exploring more. Mel made this very interesting comment on this page:

This is my first post to any kind of board like this. I am researching to find a reason for what happened to my cat today. She is 17 and very healthy other than for awhile now has twitched at certain sounds. One that always gets her is hard food (when I feed the dogs) falling into the dish. She is pretty much deaf as we can tell she doesn’t hear us when she’s not looking at us and she meows very loudly at times.

Well today she was in the garage and so was I, getting ready to till the garden. I started the tiller in the garage and seconds later my son yelled at me and pointed out what was happening. She was on the floor lying on her side with all 4 legs flailing uncontrollably! I quickly turned off the tiller and ran to her. I gently placed my hands on her and after a few seconds she slowed down. When I thought I could, I tried placing her upright to see if she could even sit up or stand. She was able to stand and even walk but one of her back legs wasn’t working quite right at first.

Then everything soon returned to normal and she was fine. I’ve read some things that talk about deaf animals being extremely sensitive to sound waves and I’m thinking the tiller (very loud) sent her over the edge but I would never have thought it would cause her to have a seizure but that’s sure what it looked like. I plan on taking her to the vet after the weekend but wanted to research too. I lost her mother this past fall at the age of 17 1/2 and she seemed like she had a stroke the day she died. We found her limp and unable to move just shortly before she passed. Thanks for any input!

I didn’t want Mel’s comment to languish amongst the comment section on an archived page written many years ago because it is too interesting and the books I have don’t refer to this. I have never seen it referred to in books or on the internet (there may be something but there are very few articles on this).

Mel believes it is a heightened sensitivity in a deaf cat to vibrations caused by sound. We know how cats compensate for sensory loss. Perhaps cats are more aware of vibrations than we think even when they have good hearing. When they become deaf the ability to detect vibrations is even more finely tuned and becomes more sensitive.

What I am saying is that the twitching of a deaf cat to vibrations indicates to me that cat behaviourists and people generally may be underestimating the cat’s ability to detect vibrations in day to life.

This may be why cats are able to detect the early signs of earthquakes. This has been reported but this feline skill is anecdotal. I wonder if a cat’s whiskers play a role in picking up vibrations? Cat’s whiskers are very sensitive and pick up subtle changes in air currents which indicate an object is there allowing a cat to negotiate around objects in very dark conditions.

Sound is transmitted through the air by a pressure wave. The air particles are pushed back and forth. This movement of air particles would be picked up by a cat’s whiskers and felt by the cat. The nerves at the base of whiskers are super sensitive. Loud sounds might cause the nerve cells to be overloaded resulting in what Mel has described in her comment.

Has anyone heard of cats twitching to sounds and/or have a better explanation? The answer may be multi-faceted, in fact. There may be other things going on as well.

4 thoughts on “Feline hearing loss contributes to twitching (hypersensitivity to noise vibrations)”

  1. Yes a very interesting story and I think you are right Michael that a cat’s whiskers are very sensitive to vibrations.
    We really don’t know the half about cats, they are amazing!
    I hope Mel’s cat is alright now.

  2. interesting!! I do know that a cat’s whiskers are very sensitive, but I never imagined to this degree!! God bless them!! <3


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