Caring for a Deaf or Blind Cat
Many people choose cat ownership over dog ownership because they want a pet that can come and go without supervision, and that can be left overnight without difficulty. Cats are generally rather independent animals, often fiercely so. A healthy cat will generally be happy provided it is fed, watered and shown regular affection (although some need more than others, just like people). What about a cat that is deaf or blind?
Cats have highly acute senses. A healthy cat can see in only a fifth of the light that a human can, giving it excellent night vision and its sight is highly attuned to see and respond to the tiniest of movements. It can hear sounds from around five times further away than a human can, and pinpoint their exact location in a fraction of a second. Their senses of smell and touch are also much stronger than those of humans. When a cat is born without its vital sense of sight or hearing, or loses it because of illness or accident, it will need a little extra care, but it can still thrive and lead a happy, healthy life.
It is not always obvious that a cat is deaf as they tend to adapt very well to their lack of hearing. If your cat was born deaf, then it will probably have adapted well already. If a previously hearing cat seems to be less responsive to sound than usual; seems distressed or disoriented; has discharge from the ears or claws at its ears, then it might have a hearing problem. Some causes of deafness (such as ear mites and minor infections) are treatable, and some (like tumours) could be indicative of a bigger problem. Get your cat checked out as soon as possible if you suspect it might be losing its hearing.
Deaf cats often need a lot of reassurance, particularly if they have lost their hearing and are still adapting to their new reality. They will often want frequent cuddles and can seem clingy, but are often also highly affectionate. They may meow loudly and frequently as they cannot hear how loud they are. Sometimes, they may stop meowing completely for the same reason.
Deaf cats normally sleep longer and more soundly than other cats, as very little can wake them up. Be careful about disturbing a sleeping deaf cat: try not to creep up on them from behind and startle them. Deaf cats should be kept indoors, as they cannot hear traffic, so roads are very dangerous for them. To communicate with a deaf cat, make sure it can see you clearly and see if you can develop a system of sign language, as many deaf cat owners do. Never use your hands to discipline a deaf cat, as they will then come to associate them with that, rather than communication. Water sprays can be a good alternative.
Blind cats adapt surprisingly well to their lack of sight, with their keen senses of smell, touch and hearing helping them find their way around the world almost as well as a sighted cat. A variety of illness and injuries can cause blindness in cats. If your cat seems to be bumping in to furniture or is generally disoriented, it may be losing its sight. Also look out for sore or weeping eyes. Cataracts, tumours and infections are some of the most common causes of blindness in cats.
Like deaf cats, blind cats need more reassurance and strokes than other cats. They can be very timid, but with the right support, they will often gain confidence. Try not to move furniture, as that will confuse the cat. Also be careful about picking up and moving your cat, as it will not know where in the house it is when you put it down.
Unlike deaf cats, blind cats can be light sleepers as they tend to be sensitive to noise. Loud, sudden noises will often scare them. If you drop something and your cat seems distressed, give it some gentle reassurance. Blind cats will use their sensitive whiskers to find their way around, but they need you to help them. Keep their little tray and food somewhere easily accessible. Try to feed them at set times: cats have a strong internal body clock, so your blind cat will know when it is dinnertime even if they cannot see their food. As with deaf cats, keep blind cats indoors as they are not safe around traffic.
All cats, whether they have all their senses or not, thrive when they have a happy and secure home. For deaf and blind cats, security and reassurance are all-important. If you are thinking of taking in a deaf or blind cat, make sure you will be able to keep it in the long-term, as it may struggle to adapt to change more than other cats. Remember that some landlords will not allow pets as it invalidates their “buy to let (rent)” insurance. If you rent, make sure you check before taking in a deaf or blind cat that you will be able to stay at the property for the long term to minimize any disruption to their lives.
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