One of my cats, Yuki, is a tiny tabby with a lot of energy. Most people don’t realize it when they meet her but Yuki is deaf. Yuki could hear when we got her as a kitten and was deaf by 6 years old. There were subtle signs – she didn’t come when called for (but for a cat that’s not unusual). It was pretty obvious one day when I was vacuuming (which usually sends the other cats running to the other room). Yuki was happily curled up and sound asleep as I vacuumed under her chair.
The term “special needs pet” probably makes you think a pet is going to take a lot of extra work. With Yuki, it really isn’t. We had a period of adapting (for our family and Yuki) but then we had a cat who was calmer and happier. I was concerned how she would be with a newborn or toddler but they get along better than our hearing cats!
How being deaf changed Yuki
One of the first changes I noticed in Yuki (and the most dramatic) was how much calmer and less skittish she was in general. For most cats, a doorbell, vacuum, or an unfamiliar voice sends them running under the bed before they even know the cause of their fear.
At the same time, Yuki became cautious, spending a lot of time just trying to gauge her surroundings (such as the other cats who were unaware of her condition). Deaf pets can get extremely startled if you touch them when they don’t know you’re there.
We naturally interact with our animals using their sense of sound. Cats can learn their names and to respond to words they like (like “treat”, “dinner”, or the name of a favorite toy). They also can respond when we use a quiet voice or excited voice. It takes some getting used to communicating with a deaf pet in a new way. We couldn’t say “no” anymore when Yuki was doing something we didn’t like (like scratching the carpet or jumping on a counter) and would have to go to her to get her to stop.
Deaf cats also can meow loudly. Yuki talks at full volume so every meow sounds like something could be wrong (even if she’s just saying hello). You learn to look at their body language to see what they’re actually trying to communicate.
Tips for being a good pet parent to a deaf cat
- Deaf cats can become extremely startled if you touch them while sleeping. Try tapping the object they are laying on, lighting stomping on the floor, or using a can of food or another smell they like to wake them up.
- A cat also can become startled if you sneak up or touch them when they can’t see you.
- Think about how you can communicate using all the senses. How can you get their attention through touch, light, vibrations, or smells?
- Come up with schedules/routines. This is a good habit for any cat but especially for a deaf cat who may still be acclimating to their new condition.
- Be extremely cautious if you decide to take a deaf pet outside and never leave them unsupervised. They can’t hear dangers such as other animals or vehicles. There’s nothing wrong with keeping a pet inside all the time, too, especially if you can provide him/her with an interesting window or some variety. (Yuki spends some time daily in an enclosed patio – something she loves that we didn’t want to take away from her when she went deaf.)