A lot of people adopt cats without knowing the cat is deaf. Usually the owner quickly cathces on, that the cat might have trouble hearing. I get a lot of messages from people in this type of situation, asking me how to tell if their cat is deaf. This is what this blog post is about.
The vet test
There is an official technique that can tell you exactly how good or bad your cat's hearing is. Its called the BAER test (Brain Audio Evoked Response) and is preformed by a vet. The cat needs to be lightly sedated as it needs to remain absolutely calm during the test. It will have several electrodes placed on its ears and head and the vet can then check the hearing. Not all vets have the equipment for this test, so you might have to travel in order to do this. I will suggest that you don't go to all this trouble and test it yourself insted.
Don't be fooled
Even when people suspect that their cat might be deaf, it can be difficult to say for sure. This is because there will always be little signs that points in another direction. A deaf cat will move its ears, even though it won't do much good. And then of course there are random things that happen by coincedense, where a cat will turn its head just as a sound is made. It makes it difficult to spot a deaf cat. I've written more about how deaf cats compensate for their lack of hearing and how they trick us here.
Here's some things to look out for, that could be signs that your cat suffers from hearing loss.
The cat doesn't notice you entering a room, if it has its back to the door.
The cat meows very loudly.
The cat is very good at keeping eye contact.
The cat will make a complaining sound if you wake it.
The cat easily startles. Maybe it suffers from anxiety even.
The cats ears does not turn when you start a noisy kitchen applience or the like.
The cat has no trouble sleeping while you vacuum.
The cat can't track toys if it can't see them.
The cat doesn't react to the sound of cat food items.
The cat will sleep very close to you or hide when it is sleeping.
The cat is a heavy sleeper.
The cat is very sensitive to smells.
If one of the above statements are true for your cat, it could be that it is either deaf or suffers from hearing loss.
The home test
If you suspect that your cat has hearing loss, you can test your theory. Make a sound when your cat has its back to you. You can raddle your keys, ring a bell or turn on the blender. What matters is, that the thing you use to make a sound, doesn't also vibrate or create a gust of air near the cat. If you turn op the music, the cat will be able to feel the bass of the speakers. And if you bang pot lids together, make sure you are not standing too close to the cat, so it can feel it. Cause the cat will react to these things and you won't be able to tell if the cat could also hear the sound.
To make sure you got the right result, one test is never enough. Try again when the cat is resting. A loud noise should bring a resting cat to at least turn an ear or open its eyes. Test it over some days, before coming to a conclusion, while also noticing if your cat fits into any of the above statements.
Electronic Sound Test
Once you know that your cat has hearing loss in sone degree, you can test it further. Some cats are almost deaf, but are able to hear some frequences. Now this is not a subject that I fully comprehend, so I don't know how scientific this method is. But if you want to check it out, you can play the different frequencies one at a time for your cat and see if it gets a reaction. you can find a tone generator here. Remember if you get a response, test it again later to be sure it wasn't just a coincidence. Don't be quick to jump to conclusions, if you want answers on this matter.
I have tried this method on both my cats, but never got any reactions. But I know someone who got a deaf cat, who found out it could actually hear some frequencies. The test startled the cat, as it wasn't used to hearing anything. So please start with a low volume and work your way up, so you won't startle your cat, in case it can hear a little. And don't try this on your hearing cats please.
When there's no doubt
Sometimes you got a clear cut case of a deaf cat. One day our neighbours were making pancakes and accidently set off the smoke detectors. This included our smoke detector too. Ronja and Victor did not wake up from their naps, even though my ears were bleeding. Notice how Ronja continues to sleep, untill my husband comes around the corner. She doesn't wake up from the noise, but from his steps getting closer. And perhaps because I'm hovering over her. This is a good example of why you must be patience when testing a cat's hearing. If you walk up to cat that has its back on you, while you make a lot of noise, it might turn around and look. But that doesn't mean it's responsing to sound. It's just something us hearing humans tend to assume.