Monday, September 19, 2011

Less Adoptable: Deaf Cats

This post is #6 in a series. To read post #5, go to Sebastian's blog, www. 

I'm sometimes asked "what's it like to live with a deaf cat?" My favorite answer comes from another deaf cat owner, who replied, "It's no different, really. I yell 'no!' and he ignores me just like the others do."

We noticed Maxwell was deaf on his first day with us when he failed to react in any way to the vacuum cleaner. As a test, my husband slowly advanced the machine right up to his nose, where he curiously sniffed it and turned away. The vet confirmed it the next day.

Those first months were especially hard on me, as I had to be the 'bad guy,' administering those hated ear drops - two different meds - twice a day. I was also the one who took him to countless vet visits, and ultimately his surgery. I worried this would affect our ability to bond and that he'd associate me with nothing but unpleasantness (I'm so glad that didn't happen!). 

Deaf cats fall squarely under “less adoptable.” But why?

I think in part it's a concern over excessive medical bills. But deafness isn't a disease; it's a physiological condition and, unless complicated by infection, should not require medical care. In Maxie's case, one ear is malformed and his eardrum is hanging partially attached and as thin as tissue paper. Nothing we can do about it – he was born that way.

Another reason might be fear of the unknown or discomfort around an animal that is 'different.' Perhaps they fear such a pet would be less responsive, but that's not the case. With the loss of one sense, the others become more highly developed. 

Max doesn't really have a meow - he never could hear to develop one. But he is exceptionally perceptive, the first to notice you when you come in the room. And he's very tactile as well, the only cat of our three who uses his paws to open, lift or carry (he'll venture down into the basement to choose a trinket off my husband's workbench, carry it in his mouth up to our bathtub, and then drop it, just for the joy of watching it careen off the sides!)

How does one treat a deaf cat? The answer: same as any other – with a few very important exceptions.

First and foremost, a deaf cat should never be let outside. With one of their most important defense mechanisms gone, deaf cats are at greater risk.

Second, a deaf cat is easily startled. So when you approach – especially when sleeping – be sure to create a vibration by tapping on a surface or create motion by sitting a short distance away on a sofa or bed. Such movement will give him fair warning that someone is near. 

Third, never hit a deaf cat (not even a light bop on the nose in reprimand). Since they can't hear, they can't distinguish between a stern tone of voice and a loving one. All they will come to know is that human hands hit cats, so they'll associate them with painful, unpleasant things. Instead, use hand signals or facial expressions to reinforce your training.

One thing I noticed almost immediately with Maxwell was that he was a bit clumsy. Perhaps it was due to ear infection but his balance was not good, so he didn't exhibit the natural grace we associate with a cat. (Nor did he leap up onto counters or seek high places!)

Max is exceptionally trusting and innocent, and I'm more protective of him than I am our other two. He is such a joy, has so much love to give, that I cannot imagine life without him.


  1. That is a great post. Love the comment about "he ignores me like every other cat" - how true!!! We wish people would get over their need for the "perfect" animal and see past the difference.

  2. Maxwell's such a cutie, I don't know how anyone could resist him! I'm glad he found a loving home.

  3. Very interesting post! yes I too laughed at the ignoring like all other cats comment.

  4. It sounds to me like deaf cats are pretty much like any other kitty! It should not take much effort to be mindful of their lack of hearing. "Less adoptable?" Feh!

  5. Oh Max, you're such a handsome fella, I can't think you'd be less adoptable (In fact Rumblemum is thinking that you're CAT-NAPABLE! Better hide...)

  6. Maxwell: uh...I like the NAPPABLE part of tha-- zzzzzzzzzz

  7. That is so beautiful. Thank you for posting this.


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