How to tell if your cat is deaf

8 April 2024 - 5 min read
A Turkish Van cat laying down on a beige background

Like any mammal, cats can have deafness from birth or develop it as they age. However, if your cat is deaf, they can still live a healthy, happy life. 

If you’re looking to answer ‘is my cat deaf?’ or you’re concerned about their hearing loss, we’re here to help. 

Below, we discuss what causes deafness in cats, the symptoms, how to care for a deaf cat, and some myths about cat deafness and coat colour. 

What causes deafness in cats?

Cat deafness can be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. They can either be born deaf (congenital deafness) or become deaf later in life (acquired deafness).

Congenital deafness

A cat’s genetics can increase the probability that they’re deaf. For example, a cat born with a white coat and blue eyes is more likely to be deaf. 

Acquired deafness                

There are many reasons cats can become deaf after birth, the most common of which we discuss below.     

Old age

Much like humans, as cats age, their hearing can worsen. There’s no cure for this, though it will likely be a slower process, so you can prepare accordingly.

Physical conditions 

Any condition affecting the ability for sound to travel from the environment to the brain can cause deafness. Sometimes, this can be as simple as too much wax in the ear canal. Inflammatory polyps, which are small pink lumps sometimes found in the ear canals of younger cats, can also lead to hearing loss. Tumours of the ear or auditory system are another cause of deafness in older cats.

Damage to the small bones within the inner ear, or things that cause trauma to the inner ear, rupture of the eardrum, or things that lead to the loss or destruction of myelin (the fatty part of nerve cells) can also result in deafness. 

Any condition that leads to significant nerve damage is likely to cause permanent hearing loss. 

Bacterial infection

Infection of the outer ear canal is a common condition that can cause temporary loss of hearing, but this usually resolves after an appropriate course of antibiotics. However, persistent or recurring infections can progress to involve the middle or inner ear, which can be much harder to resolve. Left untreated, these could result in irreversible hearing loss. 

Environmental factors

Living in a loud environment or with lots of background street noise can contribute to hearing loss. A dirty or dusty living space could increase the risk of ear mites, leading to inflammation and impaired hearing.

Toxins and drugs

Some drugs can have side effects which impact hearing. These include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and diuretics. Anaesthesia may also be a risk factor for hearing loss, especially following dental or ear-cleaning procedures.    

What’s the difference between reversible and permanent deafness?

vet examining orange striped cat's skin and ear

Reversible deafness is hearing loss that can be completely or partially restored. It usually needs appropriate treatment and removal of the underlying cause. Permanent deafness, meanwhile, refers to irreversible hearing loss.

Risks for reversible deafness in cats

● Bacterial infection

● Drugs 

● Wax buildup or ear mites

● Inflammatory polyps

Risks for permanent deafness in cats 

● Old age 

● Breed

● Toxins and some drugs    

● Physical damage due to trauma or very loud noises

● Recurrent or deep infections 

● Tumours

Are cats born deaf?

Yes, some cats are born deaf. This is known as congenital deafness and it doesn’t have a cure. Some breeds are more prone to it than others. 

Are all white cats deaf, then?

People often ask ‘are all white cats deaf’ since, well, a lot of them are. As mentioned, white cats with blue eyes are the most likely to have deafness. But this isn’t a guarantee – some can have this coat and eye colour and hear fine. 

But deafness in white cats is not uncommon. The ASPCA estimated that deafness occurred in: 

● 17-20% of white cats with non-blue eyes 

● 40% of white odd-eyed cats with one blue eye 

● 65-85% of blue-eyed white cats 

Another study found that 72% of the white cats used in their study were likely to be deaf at birth. Therefore, if you have a white, blue-eyed cat, it’s likely deaf.

Symptoms of deafness in cats

● Not responding to noise

● Visible ear damage, redness or swelling

● Brown/black (wax) or white/yellow (infection) discharge from the ear       

● Louder meowing or vocalisation

● Ignoring recall 

● Excessive pawing at ears 

● Easily startled or unable to settle

Is my cat deaf or ignoring me?

Don’t automatically assume your cat’s deaf if they aren’t listening to your recall, especially if they’re keeping their ears pricked for the sound of food packaging opening. 

The best tip is to be observant: look for inconsistencies in their behaviour and other symptoms listed above. 

If you are concerned, a trip to your vet will help to confirm if your cat’s deaf or not. 

Do deaf cats meow?

It depends. Some deaf cats are mute, while others meow loudly. 

Deaf cats naturally rely more on their other senses, meaning they can react to other cues from people and cats. They tend to pay more attention to vibrations, meaning they can still be very aware of their surroundings. 

Since deaf cats have no concept of volume, some will meow very loudly and frequently. Other cats may react by not meowing at all.

How to care for a deaf cat

White and black adult, female, short hair cat looking to the side, standing on a sidewalk while wearing a purple harness on her upper body attached to a leash held by out of sight pet owner..

The main thing is to focus on touch, vibration and visuals. 

Consider a cat bell

A cat bell will help you find where your cat is should they ever lurk around your house for a new hiding spot.

Approach gently

Don’t startle them – deaf cats tend to respond stronger to visual shocks, so make sure you approach them gently. Consider using loud footsteps or making a tapping noise so they can feel the vibration and be alerted to your presence.

Make time to play with your deaf cat

Deaf cats respond as much to play as normal cats, so always take time for some cat-friendly games! 

Sign language for deaf cats

Cats (and other pets) respond well to hand signals. Just be consistent: pick a word, then associate it with a hand gesture you use consistently. Your cat will soon pick up on it. 

Use touch and vibration

As mentioned, touch and vibration are key for communicating with a deaf cat. Touch can help soothe them, while vibration can be used to tell them key things. 

For example, some owners will tap the ground a few times when it’s feeding time, which communicates this to the cat via vibration.

Deaf cats are just as likely to enjoy being touched and stroked, but it is important to ensure they are always aware of your presence first by using vibration techniques. 

Protect them outside the house

Deaf cats mustn’t go outside alone or without a lead. They can’t hear traffic or other hazards. If they’re going outside, you must be with them, and they must be on a leash. Our cat leash training guide can help.

You could also consider building a secure outdoor space in your garden if your cat previously spent a large proportion of their time outside. 

How cat insurance helps

As ever, it’s best to stay prepared with cat insurance. We have cover for pre-existing conditions, meaning your deaf cat can stay protected throughout its life.

A cat with its arm on a woman, they are looking at each other

All our policies cover conditions that ended at least two years ago.

A cat with its arm on a woman, they are looking at each other