Communicating With a Deaf Cat

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Cats may be born deaf, or lose hearing early in life. Chronic ear infections can cause deafness, and some drugs are toxic to hearing nerves. But age-related deafness, called presbycusis, is the most common form. It can develop rapidly or gradually when the cochlea (hearing organ) degenerates and the tiny bones of the middle ear lose their flexibility to vibrate and transmit sound.

Hearing loss shouldn’t affect your cat’s quality of life, though. Here are tips to improve communication, protect your cat, and preserve your loving bond.

  • If a deaf cat can’t hear the truck or the dog, he can’t avoid the danger. Keep deaf cats inside.
  • The Cat Locator pendant attaches to the collar and emits a tone when the handheld applicator is activated, to help you find your deaf cat. You can also use the collar’s vibration (much the way a pager or cell phone vibrates) as a training signal to cue desirable behaviors.
  • A deaf cat sleeps very soundly, is easily startled, and may bite or hiss more as a result. He can still feel vibrations, though. Stomp your foot or slam the door to warn him of your presence, and head off a startle or bite reflex.
  • Deaf cats rely on sight, so use visual signals to communicate. Instead of the can opener whirr, toss a toy into his line of sight to call him to dinner.
  • Cats can be “clicker trained” using a flashlight instead of the clicker sound to identify a desirable behavior. (See the Clicker Training website for more information.)
  • Older kitties often become clingy and cry for you to “rescue” them. Try wearing very strong, distinctive cologne on your ankles to help kitty find you more easily with his nose.
  • Cats may lose hearing only in certain ranges. A high-pitched “silent” dog whistle might get your cat’s attention.
Meowing a lot can also be a sign of other age-related problems, such
as high blood pressure, senility, or kidney disease. Complete Care for Your
Aging Cat
by Amy D. Shojai (New American Library) discusses these concerns
and others, with tips to keep cats happy throughout his golden years.

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