Geriatric Medicine: Deafness


Gradual loss of hearing occurs as cats age, but not as frequently as in older dogs. The anatomical changes responsible for hearing loss in old cats are not well established, and treatment is not possible. Inattentiveness or unresponsiveness to calling is often one of the first signs of hearing loss.

A crude test for hearing ability is to stand behind the cat and make a sudden sound, such as a whistle, hand clap, or sharp call. Most cats will cock their ears toward the sound or turn their heads. Hands clapped near the ear (but not near or in front of the eyes) may cause both eyes to blink in response to the sound. Most cats also come running when they hear the sounds of food preparation in the kitchen. If your elderly cat is hungry at mealtime but no longer responds to these auditory cues, suspect hearing impairment. Since hearing-impaired cats are at greater risk of injury they are safest when kept indoors and allowed outdoors only under close supervision.