Deafness

In June 2010 we rescued Marilyn when she was found wandering. A few weeks later we realised she was deaf. Deafness seems to pose no problem to her, but she needs to be protected from the dangers she can’t hear, such as dogs and traffic. We’ve not fostered a deaf cat before so we had a look online for information … and this is what we found:

From Living With A Disabled Cat, Sarah Hartwell. Check her site for a great resource on cats.

Some cats, e.g. some blue-eyed whites, are born deaf. Many other cats are thought to be ‘grumpy’ by owners who don’t realise that their cat can’t hear. Deafness can be congenital or related to age, illness or physical injury. Many cats lose their hearing gradually as they age (as do many humans), sudden loss of hearing is normally the result of illness or injury and may be temporary or permanent.

Where hearing loss is gradual, it can be ages before you realise that Puss is deaf because the cat compensates for its lack of hearing. Where hearing loss is sudden, the cat may appear confused, irritable, over-attached to the owner, insecure or exhibit other ‘unusual’ behaviours in response to the sudden loss of this sense. Some deaf cats call out more often and more loudly (they cannot regulate their own volume) while others may become mute.

As with blindness, deafness varies in degree. In most older cats, hearing loss is gradual and not apparent until the later stages since cats do not always respond to being called. A cat with unilateral deafness may turn its head more often to increase the chance of picking up sounds with the hearing ear.

Poor hearing makes cats defensive – they strike out first and ask questions later. Click your finger nails close to each ear in turn (make sure that it can’t see your hands though) – does it respond? Is it easily startled if you approach it from behind and touch it?

Some deaf cats learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used in distance control of dogs. At close range, sharp handclaps might provide enough vibration in the air to get the cat’s attention. Flashing a torch (flashlight), shone in the direction of the cat, on and off can be used to call it in from the garden at dusk (this also works with hearing cats) especially if it the flashing light is followed by a tasty incentive.

Deaf cats cannot hear warning sounds such as car engines, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If it goes outdoors, make sure it is wearing a collar (in case it is startled by something and bolts) and write ‘I AM DEAF’ on the collar to help people who wonder why the cat fails to react to shouts, car horns etc.

A noisy bell on its collar will help you to locate its whereabouts when it is in motion. It is safest to confine a deaf cat to a safely fenced garden unless, like me, you are in a quiet area with no aggressive dogs and plenty of cat-lovers pre pared to take extra care.

In June 2003, a German acoustics expert announced his invention of a hearing aid for cats. Hans-Rainer Kurz, a hearing aid specialist, took two years to develop the hearing aid with help from experts at the Vetenarian University in Hanover. They developed a tiny device, which can be implanted in the cat’s outer ear. Herr Kurz has already had success with a similar aid for dogs. He admitted that the device would not cure totally deaf cats, but could help those with severe hearing difficulties. The hearing aid ensures that the cat is able to take the usual acoustic signals and re-work them into sounds in the brain. Quiet sounds that hearing-impaired cats had never heard before would become distinguishable. The feline hearing aid currently costs around £300.

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