Thoughts on interacting with a deaf cat to improve caregiving

Here are some thoughts on interacting with a deaf cat. I am sure many caregivers have their own successful way but this page may help. I was encouraged to write this article because of a Reddit.com posting in which the person adopted a seven-year-old white cat and discovered that her cat couldn’t hear (see photo below). She didn’t realise it until after adoption which is the first point, namely that deaf cats compensate admirably for their loss of hearing but they shouldn’t be allowed outside unsupervised which means using a leash and harness or an enclosure.

Deaf cat
Deaf cat. Photo: u/MoLT2025
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Sign language!

In general, there will be many ways in which a person communicates with a deaf cat. It will happen instinctively. Such as hand signals. I remember a charming video on the Internet in which a man who communicates with his deaf cat through sign language. You may have seen it. The cat actually learned sign language when asking for food. It’s a very well-known video. So, there you are, you can teach your cat sign language as well! As it was asking for food there was a natural reward which must have helped.

Assessing hearing loss and deafness

It can be difficult to tell if a cat is going deaf. You have to judge the observed feline behaviour and how she uses her ears. When cats can hear they cock their heads and look towards the sound. The ear flaps swivel towards the sound to pinpoint the exact source. And white cats are not infrequently deaf. The white coat can confirm deafness.

Cornell in the USA provides some hardy information on white coats and blue eyes and the percentage that are deaf or partially deaf. Thay say this: “17 to 22 percent of white cats with non-blue eyes are born deaf. The percentage rises to 40 percent if the cat has one blue eye, while upwards of 65 to 85 percent of all-white cats with both eyes blue are deaf. Some of these cats are deaf in only one ear.”

A lack of attentiveness is therefore one of the first indicators that a cat is not hearing as well as she once did.

A test that you might do is to make a loud noise when she is asleep. If she doesn’t startle and wake up you can probably assume that the hearing is either poor or she is clinically deaf. One person discovered that her cat was becoming deaf because she was no longer frightened of the vacuum cleaner.

Waking a deaf cat

The advice is not to touch a sleeping deaf cat without warning as it might result in a swipe or scratch. A wise person on the Reddit.com website, who lived with a deaf cat for over 14 years, advises that the caregiver blows “gently on their face” as this will wake them up equally gently. An alternative would be to tap on the area near the cat’s head when they are snoozing to wake them as they will feel the vibrations.

Warning – vibrations

And you can warn a deaf cat who is facing away from you, or snoozing, of your impending arrival by walking heavily because the vibrations on the floor will be felt by the cat.

A deaf cat’s sensitivity to these vibrations may cause problems if there are many people in the home. Under these circumstances it is sensible to provide a safe, quiet hiding place where they can go to if they become overwhelmed.

Routines and rhythms

I think an important aspect of interacting with a deaf cat is for the caregiver to stick to well-defined routines to develop a pattern of behavior. Your deaf cat will be able to predict what will happen next which will be reassuring.

Domestic cats on very good at falling into patterns and rhythms. They develop habits and the life becomes much calmer because of predictability. The same applies to deaf and non-deaf cats. And it will also equally apply to blind cats.

Anxiety

I think it is fair to say that deaf cats are liable to feel more anxious that is typical of domestic cats. That being true the human response should be to create conditions which are reassuring and predictable.

Compensating behaviour

We know that deaf cat can get along pretty well because they compensate with their excellent alternative senses such as sight and smell. And their whiskers are very tactile which also help to compensate for hearing loss.

“She still has her routines, and gets a lot more information from her environment from smell, sight, and the feeling of vibration in the floor when people are moving around her.” – social media user on living their deaf cat.

Learned behaviour from both parties – feet shuffling

Cats will learn through general interactions with their human caregiver to avoid certain things and do certain things. This applies to all domestic cats. Another Reddit.com user states that her deaf and blind cat “learned quickly to not be in front of me in the dark”. She says that her cat stopped lying in the middle of the hallway when it was dark. I guess there might have been a couple or more clashes between them in the past which altered her cat’s behaviour.

Another interesting bit of advice to avoid a deaf cat who is lying on the floor in dark conditions would be to shuffle your feet rather than walk in the normal way. In other words, you don’t lift your feet off the ground. This is going to make some noise which is a warning to your deaf cat and secondly it means you can’t walk on her! The worst that can happen is that you can bump into her. That’s a neat form of protective behaviour.

Expert – book

In the US, George Strain PhD is considered an expert. He has written a book which is available on Amazon.co.uk. Not sure about Amazon.com. He works or used to work at the veterinary school at Louisiana State University.

Genetics and breeds

A quick note on this. You probably know that the dominant white gene causes all-white cats and it is this gene which is also referred to as the “white coat pigment gene” that causes deafness by interfering with the development of the inner ear. Why cats are predisposed to deafness especially those with all-blue eyes. And there are common breeds with the white coat pigment gene namely American Shorthair, Manx, American Wirehair, Norwegian Forest Cat, British Shorthair, Oriental Shorthair, Cornish Rex, Persian, Devon Rex, Ragdoll, Exotic Shorthair, Scottish Fold, Maine Coon, and Turkish Angora.

P.S. – some people say that domestic cats with good hearing employ selective hearing loss! What they mean is that when they want to listen, they will them when they don’t, they won’t.

Below are some more articles on deaf cats.

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