Hearing problems in older cats

Around the age of 7-11 years some cats will start to show early signs of ageing such as blindess or deafness. These changes can be a sign that there is a serious underlying medical problem (such as kidney disease or diabetes) but can also just be due to the cat getting older. Managing these changes well can have a great impact on their quality of life.

Hearing loss is quite a common sign of ageing in cats with more mature cats becoming completely deaf. Generally this hearing loss is gradual and is often only noticed at advanced stages of deafness due to other senses (such as smell) adapting to cope. Hearing loss has also been genetically linked to specific breeds (particularly white cat with blue eyes) but this is usually evident from a young age.

How do you know when your cat is going deaf?

The best way to test your cat's sense of hearing is to call him/her from behind, either by name or by using a hissing sound. Refrain from clapping or making noises with objects as a cat can often sense the vibration and movement made from objects as opposed to sound.

Will a deaf cat have a fulfilling life?

Deaf cats adapt remarkably well, provided their familiar routine is not suddenly altered. It is also important they are either protected within an enclosure or closely supervised when outdoors. When left unsupervised in the outdoors hazards such as other cats, dogs, power tools, garden machinery, equipment and of course road traffic, can become life threatening.

How does hearing loss occur?

In most cases of age related hearing loss, deafness occurs as a result of damage to the ear system and nerves. Normally sound waves vibrate the ear drum between the outer and middle ear. The tiny bones in the middle ear transfer the vibrations into nerve impulses within the inner ear. When any portion of this system is damaged hearing will be affected.

Hearing loss can also be caused by infections which can be treated with medication, tumours and obstructions such as ear wax and fur. So if you notice your older cat is becoming hard of hearing, the best course of action is an appointment with your vet for a thorough check up and to rule out other causes of ear disease.

Changes you can make to help your cat cope

  • Make sure your cat sees you before you approach him/her. This can be as simple as turning on a light or approaching from the front.
  • Similar to humans, it is possible to teach your cat hand signals and vibration signals such as clapping, foot tapping.
  • Odours work wonders such as wearing a distinctive perfume or aftershave at all times.
  • If you have a choice, hard floors allow noise to vibrate and can alert your cat when others are present.
  • Use light to signal key times of the day such as feeding time. Turn a light switch on and off, or use a torch to flash a signal.
  • Touch can be a wonderful tool, most deaf cats will respond well to stroking and handling and it can be used to reinforce new commands or signals.
  • If your cat has recently become deaf you can also add a bell to his/her collar to help you locate him/her.

The main tip we can provide in relation to effective communication is persistence and consistency. Everyone in the family needs to follow the same commands and stick to the same routine. Also, always make sure your guests are aware that you have a deaf cat so they can approach him/her in an appropriate manner.

We also recommend putting a tag on your cat's collar which says "I AM DEAF". If your cat ever does manage to escape outside for an adventure it will assist either your neighbours or a member of the community in how to handle your pet.

If you have a deaf cat and have any handy tips or hints to share please let us know. Use our contact us form to send us your tip.