Hearing is a hugely important sense to cats. The hunting behaviour of cats led to a better sense of sound, and cats have a better ability than dogs to hear high-pitched noises. Because hearing is so vital for cats, anything that could impair the reception of sound to your cat can have a debilitating effect. It’s hard to tell when your cat’s hearing is failing, so it’s important to make sure that your cat’s ears are in tip top shape. If you think that your cats ears need cleaning discuss ear cleaners with your vet.
Your cat’s ears should always be clean and without any thick brown or green waxy discharge. There should be no redness, itchiness or offensive smells. If your cat starts to scratch its ears frequently, shake her head more than normal, hold her head to one side, or rub one side of its face then this may indicate ear problems, and you should consider visiting your vet. There are many causes of ear problems, such as infections due to bacteria, yeast or parasites and growths or tumours. Severe middle or inner ear problems can have a more serious effect such as loss of balance.
Helping to prevent ear problems
To minimise the occurrence of ear infections try to keep your cat’s ears clean and check them for any discharge or odour. Some cats may benefit from regular ear cleaning with special ear cleaners. Talk to your vet about whether your cat would benefit from these.
The ear is delicate and sensitive and as the eardrum can be perforated it is never recommended to probe with cotton buds into the ear canal. Ask your vet how to use cotton balls and to recommend a suitable ear cleaner that will not cause any skin irritation or dry out the ear too much.
In general, cats cope well with hearing loss. Inherited causes of deafness are not common in cats but can be seen in some purebred cats and in white cats with blue eyes. Cats may lose their hearing for a variety of reasons, including trauma, neurological problems and ear infections or it may occur due to old age.
In older animals the loss of hearing is often so gradual that many owners don't notice anything unusual for some time and in some cases until total deafness has occurred.
How can I tell if my cat is deaf?
It can be hard to tell whether your cat has ear problems, as cats use their other senses very well, (even cats’ whiskers are hugely sensitive). Obvious signs of deafness include your cat not being able to hear you approach, or not moving their ears or looking for the origin of a sound.
Making life easier for your deaf cat
The most important factor to consider when handling a deaf cat is safety. Try to avoid letting your cat get into situation where her lack hearing could endanger it. This includes not letting your cat wander too far where another animal or a moving vehicle could pose a threat. Deaf cats won't hear the hisses or threats from approaching animals, so try to keep them away from conflicts with other cats or dogs. Keeping your cat in the house or within your garden are the safest places for them to be.
To make it easier to communicate replace old voice commands with hand signals that are easy to see and consistent. Try to encourage eye contact but remember that staring directly at your cat is confrontational. Blink obviously and occasionally turn your head away in order to avoid appearing threatening. When your cat responds, offer a treat or reward. Remember that deaf animals will sleep deeply and can be easily startled.
If your cat wears a collar, make sure it is one showing your address, your vet's phone number and a note which says, 'I am deaf'.