Why did you choose a deaf cat?
I chose a deaf cat because I needed a cat that would only live inside due to heavy traffic around my apartment. No outdoor cat could survive out here for long, even if they do have nine lives. Since I grew up with cats being able to go outside, I didn’t just want to take any healthy cat and decide that they should spend their lives inside. So I needed a cat that was better off inside anyways. I looked for any type of handicap in a cat, like a missing leg or neurological damage or a blind cat. A former college of mine used to have a deaf cat, which I had adored from a far (from pictures on Facebook), so I knew a little about that and got inspired. I found Victor via an online forum where a girl announced that she was looking for a new home for two male cats and that one was deaf. I wrote her and the week after we went and picked up Victor.
Why do you have two deaf cats?
I have two cats because Victor has a lot of energy and I was afraid that he was going to get bored living “alone”. So I started casually browsing for a playmate for him. One day I was looking at a shelters homepage and there at the top was Ronja (who was called Ida at the time) – another deaf cat. It seemed only fair that they both were deaf and my husband and I agreed to give it a go. We were afraid that she would be just as much of a handful as Victor, but she turned out to be quite easy-going.
Where do you find a deaf cat?
Same places you find a hearing cat. You search online on shelters, forums etc. There are more than you'd think, but of course you need to have patience and you can’t really pick and choose. Also check out this International group for deaf cats up for adoption: www.facebook.com/adoptdeafcats
Do deaf cats move their ears?
Deaf cats don’t have any purpose for their ears do they? So why move them at all? But deaf cats move their ears the same way as any other cats. My theory is that it’s simply a natural reflex. They are predators with the ability to angle their ears in order to pinpoint exactly where their prey is at. Although a deaf cat can’t actually do this, it doesn’t stop them from trying. After all, their ear muscles work just fine and this is just what cat ears are designed to do – to rotate and catch sound. Maybe deaf cats move their ears even more, because they don’t get the feedback they are searching for? Cats also use their ears to express themselves, so deaf cats actually need their ears too! So you might think that a cat have the ability to hear, because it moves its ears, but you can’t use that as an indicator at all. More on this here.
How do you know your cats are deaf?
If they are sleeping/looking away and I clap my hands right over their heads as hard I can, they don’t even flinch. I can rattle with their food and if they aren’t looking, I get no reaction whatsoever. Also I can use noisy kitchen appliances of which I can hardly stand the noise myself and they can be sound asleep. Loud noises from outside give no reaction and I can often manage to sneak by them whether they are sleeping or not. They often seem very surprised to see you, which is a sign of lack of hearing too. It becomes very clear that they can't hear when you play with them. If they can't see the toy, they quickly lose track of it. I did a test on Ronja so you can see for yourself.
They are also not afraid of the vacuum cleaner and in fact – Victor loves it! So while their ears still move and I can understand strangers can’t tell right away, it becomes very obvious when you spend a little more time with them and know how sensitive cats normally are to sound.
Do deaf cats purr?
Well it depends on the cat. Victor purrs a lot and he purrs rather loudly. Usually he starts when you pick him up or get close to him and of course when you pet him. Ronja is not big on the whole purring thing and when she does it, it’s very soft. If I suspect that she is purring, I try to put my ear on her tummy and I can hear her purr. Sometime, but rarely, she makes a louder sound, like when you blow very softly into a whistle. But in general deaf cats purr loudly.
Do deaf cats meow?
Deaf cats are notoriously known for their loud speaking and chattiness. Ronja and Victor use a normal volume, but they talk more than any cat I have ever owned. They talk to their humans and sometimes it seems, even to each other (hearing adult cats usually don't do this - only when fighting). They like to announce their presence when entering a room, say hi when I come home or just making funny sounds when they jump around. They beg for food, playtime and walks as well with their meows. More about this subject in this blogpost.
What is that text in their ears?
Ronja and Victor have tattoo's in both ears. It's a line of letters and numbers that represents the vet who did the tattoo, the year it was made and then a unique number. This is common practise in Denmark and you can't adopt a cat from a shelter without it. It is their registration number and anyone can look it up in an online database. That way, if your cat gets lost and someone finds it; they can easily see that it's not a feral. If they can read the tattoo, they can look up the owner online. That way they don't have to take the cat to a vet to get it scanned for a chip (we use chips as well though, in case you can't read the tattoo). So it's simply a way to claim ownership of a cat and to make it easier for the cat to find it's way back home if lost. Little Poul has a small tattoo as well; it simply says "C" for chipped, because the vet did not want to do a full tattoo for some reason.
How do you call them when it’s dinnertime?
Oh that is rarely needed as the cats have a keen sense of time and usually it’s them telling me when it’s time for food! They are almost always around me and especially if I am close to the cat food cabinet. If only one of them is there, I simply go get the other one. They know why I go signal them and they need no further motivation than the possibility of food. So it’s finding the cat that can be the hard part here.
How do you get their attention?
I usually stomp on the ground or wave. I have a signal for come here – which they choose to obey when it suits them. If they have their back to me or they are sleeping I softly blow on them, to make sure I don’t startle them (too much). Flicking the lights is also a possibility, especially when I can’t find them. If you want to know more about how deaf cats navigate a silent world I suggest you read this post.
Do you use sign language?
I have a sign for "come hear" that I use a lot. When Victor is unsure of me because I'm wearing shades or a hat or something, he usually calms down when I do this hand movement. It's our main signal. I wave my arms around for "no" which I need to use sometimes. And other than that I don't do much. I do have a sign for "bedtime" and "food" but because they always follow me around I don't really need them and don't know if they fully understand them. I also have a sign for "hug". You can see that in the video below. Mostly I use my eyes to communicate with my deaf darlings. I slow blink at them, to tell them I love them and that everything is okay.
How do you educate a deaf cat?
This is probably the trickiest part of having a deaf cat. Because you have to get their attention before you can signal the cat to stop and by that time it might be too late. But when they do something you don’t like, you can use big scary hand signs or stomping in the ground. Rather than using a squirt bottle you can try throwing something near them. Or throw one of those small soft balls at them to distract them. Only problem with this method is that you need an arsenal of these close by at all times. Some cats are easier to train than others and with deaf cats it’s the same.
I have recently started to teach them clicker training. Instead of a clicker I use a small flashlight to give them feedback. It's still very new to all of us, but it seems to be going very well so far! I recommend looking into the book "Clicker training for cats" by Karen Pryor if you want to give clicker training a try.
Do you talk to your cats?
Yes, I talk to them all the time, just like I would with a hearing cat. It’s a habit and I’m sure the cats don’t mind. They talk to me all the time too, even though I don’t understand most of it either. I think it’s just in our nature. Even though I know it doesn’t make a difference, this is how I communicate with all species – hearing or not. And I don’t feel any sillier than if they could hear me. This article states that talking to animals is actually a sign of social intelligence.
Is it difficult to have a deaf cat?
I don’t necessarily think it’s particularly difficult to have a deaf cat. I think deaf cats are as different, as hearing cats, so again it depends on the particular cat personality. Some of them are of course a bit cautious due to their lack of hearing and you have to be considerate of that. A deaf cat usually lives inside, because outside can be very dangerous for them and so they can be a handful to stimulate. They are after all lacking the stimuli that come from the sound of birds, the cars and the TV. On the other hand they won’t mind you drilling holes in the walls or playing loud music. And there is no special medical attention needed just because they are deaf. So I just think there is just different things to be aware of depending on whether the cat can hear or not. However, if you don't like a talking cat, you probably should not get a deaf cat.