Deafness is often difficult to assess accurately, mainly because cats are not able to tell us when they have trouble hearing. Usually, it is their failure to obey commands or respond to familiar noises that first alert cat owners to a deafness problem.
Compared to humans, cats have a much different range of hearing. Humans can hear sounds in the 20 Hz (low sounds) to 20 kHz (high sounds) range. By comparison, a cat has a range of about 48 Hz to 85 kHz.
Deafness can be hereditary in many breeds. It can also be associated with a genetic predisposition. Cats with white coat color and blue iris genes are predisposed to deafness.
Determining if Your Cat is Deaf
Deafness is difficult to evaluate in cats, especially if only one ear is involved or if there is only partial deafness. Since pets cannot tell us what they hear, the best criterion for confirming whether a cat can hear or not is by its response to sound (i.e. the pet must consciously perceive the sound).
You can determine your cat's ability to hear by making various noises (from quiet to increasingly louder noises) and seeing if your pet reacts. Often, cats will display an involuntary flicking or twitching of the ears (called "Pryor's reflex) in response to a sound. Some veterinary schools have also had some degree of success with objective evaluations of hearing, using electrodiagnostic procedures.
If you suspect that your cat has a hearing problem, consult your veterinarian so that he or she can determine what kind of deafness is involved and what can be done about it.
When cat begins to go deaf the process is normally a gradual one. Cats are gifted with the ability to easily rely on their other senses to make up for one that they lost, and you will probably not be able to tell that your cat is going deaf until they have lost most of their hearing. Most pet owners who discover that their cat has gone deaf have noticed for awhile that something about their pet seemed a little off, but they couldn't quite put their finger on what it could be.
Symptoms of Deafness in Cats
A cat going deaf shows much more subtle signs, and many pet owners wonder if their cat hasn't decided to completely ignore them all together. Calling the cat to meal times verbally, or by shaking a bag or opening a can no longer works. Instead the owner must go find the cat, and once the cat sees the food the cat goes running to the food dish. Petting the cat while it is resting may cause a startled reaction that the owner did not see before, and the cat will eventually no longer respond to "Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"
If your cat seems to be losing their hearing, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Hearing loss is not normally a serious condition, but it is a good idea to make sure that there are no underlying conditions which contributed to your pet's loss of hearing.
Acquired hearing loss usually results from damage to the ear components: eardrum, middle or inner ear structures, and nerves. It can also be a consequence of disease or old age. There are some critical signs to look for if you expect your cat might be losing his hearing. These observations will help your veterinarian make a diagnosis.
Diagnosing Deafness in Cats
Cats experiencing hearing loss are sound sleepers. Loud, medium, or even soft noises might not wake him. If your cat usually awakens at the sound of footprints, notice how close you have to get to him before he stirs. If your pet only rouses if you touch him, this is a red flag. If he does not come when you call him from another room, he is probably just not testing your patience. He could be experiencing hearing loss.
Diagnoses can usually be made by observation but your veterinarian can definitively diagnose hearing loss through the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test. The procedure is painless and takes 10-15 minutes to administer. Your veterinarian directs a clicking sound into the ears through earphones or a foam insert. Computers then measure the brain's electrical activity in response to the sound. The test is expensive and only offered in select practices so many owners rely on an observational diagnosis, but it is available for owners who would like to be certain.
Many cats that have been diagnosed with hearing loss live happy lives. Cats can easily be taught to respond to hand signals, facial expressions or even flashlights. Owners will need to change some of the ways in which they deal with their cat, but there are many success stories.