What are Deafness?
Deafness is the inability to hear sounds. Cats can experience total or partial deafness in one or both ears. The ear is made up of multiple parts that receive and transmit sounds. When one or more of these ear structures, like the ear drum or auditory nerve, are not able to work properly deafness or hearing loss can occur. The inability to hear can be congenital, meaning it occurs at birth. Some breeds, like Persians, Angoras, and Ragdolls, are at a higher risk of congenital deafness. It can also be acquired, meaning it is developed later in life due to factors like disease, trauma, or toxicity. Deafness itself is not life-threatening, but the underlying cause of it might be. If you pet is exhibiting signs of deafness or hearing loss consult a veterinarian immediately to determine its cause.
Symptoms of Deafness in Cats
The primary sign that a cat is experiencing deafness is a lack of response to sound. This can often be difficult to detect, especially if hearing loss is gradual or only occurs in one ear. In cats with congenital deafness, symptoms are usually apparent very early in life, even within the first few weeks.
- Lack of response to everyday noises
- Very loud or louder than normal vocalizing
- Not responding when called
- Not woken by loud sounds
- Frequently startles on sight (rather than sound)
- Inflammation or redness in the ear
- Pawing at the ears
There are different types of deafness that can occur in cats, depending on why sound is not transmitted to the brain. The types of deafness in cats include:
- Conduction Deafness: This occurs when sounds are not able to reach the auditory nerve, usually due to some type of blockage in the ear.
- Nerve Deafness: This occurs when the auditory nerve is unable to transmit sounds. This is the type of deafness that occurs congenitally, but can be caused by other factors.
- Deafness Caused by Aging: This occurs due to degeneration in the ear over time.
Causes of Deafness in Cats
Many different causes of deafness exist. It can be linked to another disease or disorder or be caused by trauma or other issues. Common causes include:
- Congenital: Deafness that occurs at birth. White cats with blue eyes are at a higher risk.
- Inflammation: Swelling in the outer, middle, or inner ear causing blockage.
- Tumors: In the ear, nerve, or brain.
- Infection: Some bacterial infections can cause conduction or nerve deafness.
- Ruptured Eardrum: From trauma or severe infection.
- Toxins, Drugs, or Medical Treatments: Ingestions of certain substances, including aspirin, chemotherapy drugs, some antibiotics or diuretics, household chemicals, and heavy metals, can cause deafness.
- Ear Mites: An infestation can cause inflammation and other issues that impact hearing.
- Aging: Deafness that occurs either due to ear drum thickening, which occurs normally with age, or degeneration of the nerves or other structures of the ear.
Diagnosis of Deafness in Cats
If you observe symptoms of deafness in your pet, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Although deafness is often not treatable, many of the conditions that cause deafness can be treated if caught early, which reduces the amount of damage to the ear. Your veterinarian will need to discuss your cat’s history, including any recent medical treatments, traumas, or other causes of deafness that might be applicable to your pet. Be prepared to discuss the symptoms you have observed and the time frame in which they have been occurring. The veterinarian will perform a full physical examination of your pet and their ears. They may also use X-ray or other imaging to study the structures of the ear and identify any masses or other issues. A sensitivity test may be conducted to determine the extent of the hearing loss.
Treatment of Deafness in Cats
Treatment of deafness in your cat will depend on the type of deafness they are suffering from and its cause. Congenital deafness and many causes of nerve deafness are untreatable, and the inability to hear will be permanent. The causes of many types of conductive deafness are treatable. Your veterinarian will treat the cause, which can restore hearing or prevent total deafness. Even with appropriate medical response, your pet’s hearing loss may be permanent. Treatment options may include:
- Antibiotics: Bacterial infections that cause deafness will be treated with an antibiotic. This type of drug will work to kill off the bacteria causing the infection. Without the bacteria causing issues, inflammation and other issues will go away and hearing may be fully or partially restored.
- Ear Mite Treatments: To treat ear mites that are causing hearing loss or deafness your veterinarian will thoroughly clean the ear, a task that requires a professional to prevent further damage. They will also treat the mites with a prescription drop.
- Anti-inflammatories: This treatment is designed to reduce the inflammation in the ear that is causing blockage of sound. Depending on your pet’s condition and other medical factors, your veterinarian may choose either steroid or non-steroid anti-inflammatories.
- Cancer Treatments: If deafness is related to tumors in the ear, auditory nerve, or brain, cancer treatments like surgery or chemotherapy may be necessary. Your veterinarian will determine if your cat is a good candidate for these types of treatments.
Recovery of Deafness in Cats
In many cases, deafness will be permanent, even if the cat recovers well from the issues that caused it. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions completely, including doses of medication and follow-up visits as required. While your pet is recovering, they will need additional support to adapt to their new limitation. Most deaf cats can still lead a happy, full life. There are several steps you can take to make life better for your deaf or hearing impaired pet. Flash the lights or use motion to get your pet’s attention when you enter a room to avoid startling them unnecessarily. Since they are unable to hear you, show affection through touching and eye contact. To reduce stress, avoid making major changes to your pet’s environment while they adapt.