Humans aren’t the only ones who lose their hearing as they age. Cats are also vulnerable to deafness as the years start to clock up, although unlike humans, it’s a little trickier for them to tell us what’s happening. Usually, the cause of hearing loss in cats can be traced to degenerative damage in the ear, and while a cat is never going to be able to spell out their hearing loss in the same way as us, there’s a few signs and symptoms that indicate something’s afoot. If you suspect your cat may be suffering hearing loss, make an appointment with the vet as soon as possible. With the proper care and attention, there’s every likelihood your cat will go on to live the same full, happy life they would have otherwise.
Senior Hearing Loss
If your cat is aged between 12-14-years-old, it’s likely you’re starting to notice changes in their health and appearance that go beyond the odd scattering of grey hears on their muzzle. Cats can experience hearing loss at any age, so it’s important to keep an eye out for any warning signs regardless of whether their 5 or 15. That said, degenerative hearing loss is the most common cause of deafness, and typically kicks in a few years after their 10th birthday.
How to Tell if Your Cat is Losing its Hearing
Sometimes, the signs of hearing loss are so subtle, it can be hard for owners to pick up on the problem until the deafness is in its advanced stages. Some of the early signs of hearing problems that may be detectable include: A failure to respond to the kind of sounds they would normally (e.g. opening a can of their food or rustling a bag of their treats). Not picking up on the sound of you approaching, and acting surprised when you reach out to pet them when they’re facing away from you.
- Sleeping very heavily – Caterwauling (which compensates for not hearing their voice quite as loudly or clearly as they once did).
- Not responding when called by name. – Other than their lack of response to sounds, cats with hearing loss can also seem disorientated and confused. Occasionally, they may also exhibit problems with coordination and balance (something that can then result in secondary issues of vomiting and nausea). If you suspect your cat is struggling with hearing loss, put your theory to the test with some of these tried and tested methods from Animal Wised.
- Stamp around. Check whether your cat picks up on your presence by stomping around (although be mindful that they may simply be picking up on the vibrations you’re causing, rather than the sounds you’re omitting).
- Use the vacuum. Most cats hate the vacuum and will run away as soon as you turn it on. If your cat fails to respond to it at all, there’s a good chance they simply can’t hear it.
- Make some noise when it’s distracted. When your cat’s looking the other way or otherwise distracted, try making some noise to see if you can attract its attention. If you can’t draw its glance, it’s likely it can’t hear what you’re doing.
Sometimes, a cat will suffer hearing loss in only one ear. Although it can be difficult to work out if this is the case for your kitty, pay attention to the way they move their head when they’re listening to something. If you notice they always tend to move one side of their head in the direction of the sound, it could indicate their other side is hard of hearing.
Physical Symptoms of Hearing Loss
As The Nest notes, there’s a couple of physical symptoms that could indicate hearing loss. If you suspect your cat’s hearing isn’t quite what it used to be, take a few minutes to physically inspect their ears. If the ear canal looks red or slightly inflamed or is omitting a dark or yellow substance, it’s a sign your next point of call should be the vet.
Types of Hearing Loss
If you think your cat has hearing loss, it’s vital to get them to a vet as soon as possible for a diagnosis. While hearing loss is usually a result of age, diminished hearing can also be the result of an obstruction, infection, tumor, ear mites, or even a side effect of medication. The sooner you know exactly what’s causing the problem, the sooner you can start to tackle it.
- Temporary deafness: deafness doesn’t necessarily have to be permanent. Fungi, bacterial infection, parasites, or a trapped foreign object can all cause hearing loss that, treated promptly and properly, will be nothing more than a temporary blimp in your cat’s life.
- Permanent hearing loss: permanent hearing loss usually occurs in the cat’s middle or inner ear, and can be the result of an untreated infection, serious injury, cysts, or neurological problems.
- Congenital deafness: while it’s very rare a cat is born deaf, it can sometimes happen. Congenital deafness is more prevalent in certain types of cats than others, with white-haired, blue-eyed cats being the most typically affected
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
A vet will take steps to rule out any infection, parasite, or fungal infection before confirming the deafness as age-related. One of the primary diagnostic tools for hearing loss is Brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER), a test to determine brain wave activity in response to certain sound stimuli. As the test can be expensive, your vet may use other methods first to decide whether a BAER is really necessary. Examples of the types of test your vet may perform include:
- Tearing a piece of paper behind your cat’s head to check if they respond to the sound
- Testing their high-frequency hearing by jingling some keys near their head while they’re looking away.
- Crackling some tinfoil while they’re distracted.
- Tapping a box to test their low-frequency hearing.
If your vet confirms your suspicions, don’t panic. Deaf cats tend to adapt remarkably well, and provided you follow your vet’s advice (this will usually fall around ensuring your cat’s familiar routine is not disturbed, and that they’re not put in situations where their impediment could be dangerous) your cat has every chance of living out a long, happy life.