Keoka Maine Coons

Advice for Looking After Deaf Kittens and Cats

This page gives advice on testing kittens cats and cats for partial or total deafness and gives advice on keeping a deaf pet kitten or cat.
I am frequently asked for advice on deaf kittens and cats, so I have made a compilation of various emails on this.

Below, I give advice on Testing for Deafness

This advice article is copyright © 2001 David Brinicombe and may only be reproduced in part or in whole by the permission of David Brinicombe. Permission will not be unreasonably withheld if copying or quoting the Article is to the benefit of deaf or partially hearing kittens or cats.

All quotes or copies must be attributed to David Brinicombe.

Looking After a Deaf Kitten or Cat

I have had 5 deaf kittens in the past out of about 50 whites, and have managed to home them with hearing brothers of sisters. The can then learn about dangers from their hearing companion and have a playmate they are familiar with. Watching a deaf kitten playing with a hearing sibling, it is often difficult to tell which one is deaf.

Partially deaf kittens will often not have stereo hearing, so will not naturally learn to associate sound with people, other cats or objects which make a noise. Talk to them a lot and let them associate your voice with having cuddles or getting food. They just need this little extra bit of teaching.

With deaf kittens or cats, the prime means of communication is your hands, and for that reason you should never hit a deaf kitten or cat. Hitting them doesn't work, and all it teaches them is that human hands hit cats and therefore to avoid the humans and the hands.

You can teach cats and kittens not to jump on tables, etc, by using a water pistol or any squirter, which is "action at a distance". With hearing cats, you reinforce this my saying "off", but your body language will usually work just as well with deaf kittens.

Deaf cats are more visually active to readjust to their deafness. They are also very sensitive to movement and vibrations. If you come into a room when one is asleep, I would advise tapping the furniture or the floor to let them know you have come in, so they don't get a fright when they wake up.

Touch is a very important sense to a deaf cat, and they will usually respond well to stroking and handling. Some don't, but most will approach you in their own time and you should welcome them with a tickle under the chin or whatever they like.

Vibration is important, and when cuddling a cat close, they can feel your voice when you speak or hum. You could also see if they respond to "purring" as cat purring is a vibration rather than a noise. Very young kittens are deaf as their ears are closed for 2 or 3 weeks, but they can feel mum's purr, and can purr back. This is probably why they like to sit on a vacuum cleaner when all the others flee under the furniture.

Deaf kittens compensate well but are of course not aware of some dangers like machinery, cars or hostile animals. For that reason they are best kept indoors, but one of my deaf ex-kittens learnt about the great outdoors and liked to watch the cars go by. She would miaow at passers by at full volume and became quite a local character.

The normal warning noise for a cat is a hiss. When I was in London. I used to take kittens outside and when a car went past on our quite road, I would reinforce their fear of it by hissing at them and chasing them indoors. With deaf kittens, you have to use a different warning system, and one is something large flapping above them. A towel or newspaper often works, or even just waving your arms.

Hopefully deaf kittens and cats are cuddly, at least when the mood takes them. If they don't like being picked up, welcome them when they come to you. Many cats like being groomed as long as you don't pull tangles, so it is worth getting them used to a comb even if they don't need any grooming. Short strokes of the comb is like a big mum cat's lick. Young kittens will have a play fight with the comb, and that is also good contact with them.

Play with them a lot and give them toys. The simplest ones are often the best, like balls and furry things and foam scrubbers, and string with a screw of paper tied at both ends so they don't swallow the string. and cardboard boxes with holes cut in them. They have a lot of senses to use - touch, vibration, smell, taste (let them lick you), and vision which are all enhanced to compensate for their deafness.


Testing for Deafness

Deaf kittens ride on the vacuum cleaner and mew at full volume. When testing for hearing deficiencies, you have to avoid giving any visual clues, What you are looking for is a kitten who can't hear as well as the others, doesn't respond to high pitched sounds or doesn't immediately turn its head towards the source of the sound.

No kitten with any hearing loss has ever got past my battery of tests which start with tearing paper behind their heads and include pop music played through an earpiece.

Kittens are born with their ears and eyes closed. Maine Coon kittens often open their eyes in their first week, but sometimes their ears don't open for three weeks. With both sight and vision, it takes time for the brain to make sense of what the newly opened eyes or ears are telling it, and it can be five weeks before a kitten reacts to sounds. A fear reaction to sounds takes even longer to develop.

For these reasons, I don't do proper hearing tests on kittens until they are 6 weeks old. At that age, you will still not get a big reaction but any movement of the ears will indicate a response. Sometimes it will stiffen up or move its head. As a kitten grows older, it will learn to associate some sounds with danger, and take evasive action. It will also learn to associate other sounds with pleasure, like your voice and food related sounds like cans opening.

Look for a reaction the first time you make a sound. A laid back kitten or cat will recognise a sound which it has decided is not dangerous or food related and may not feel like responding to it again.

Test 1:

Tear a piece of paper behind the kitten's head. Make sure you don't touch it.

Test 2:

Crackle a bit of tinfoil or jingle a bunch of keys. This tests high frequency hearing.

Test 3:

Hiss. This is a universal danger sound. Shield your breath with a tissue or clothe so it can't feel you blowing.

Test 4:

Tap a cardboard box or something that makes a drumming noise to test low frequency hearing.

Test 5:

Run a vacuum cleaner. This makes a wide range of noises, from low rumbling to a high pitched hiss. Do this carefully so as not to frighten them as you will want them to get used to this noise without freaking out. Totally deaf kittens will not react while others will disappear under the furniture. They will sometimes ride on the machine as they like the vibration, but be careful they don't get caught up in it.

Test 6:

Your kitten or cat may have one ear deaf or with reduced hearing. When it is relaxed, throw something small to the left and right of them so they can't see it coming. I use wood litter pellets. The head should turn immediately to the source of the sound. If they have to look around to see what made the noise, they don't have stereo hearing.

Test 7:

This is more technical. I use an earpiece with a small tube attached. I play various sounds down this from pop music to cat miaows at a level which can only be heard when the tube is close to the ear. With this, I can tell, with unequal hearing, which ear is deficient. I've only bred one cat with one deaf ear. He was odd eyed and the coloured eye side ear was the deaf one, contrary to the usual assumption.


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David Brinicombe
Devon
England
tel:  +44 (0)1760 560 392
fax: +44 (0)1769 560 541
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Copyright © 2001 David Brinicombe

Last updated Sept 04