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Feline Hearing Loss

Posted November 02, 2014 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Have you ever noticed how as we age, people seem to mumble more? It couldn’t be our hearing! I hear just fine -- except for the fact that I have to strain to hear conversations and the television. As we grow older we naturally experience some hearing loss -- a sequel to exposure to loud sounds like music or environmental sounds damaging the hearing mechanism.

Orange cat

Cats can have hearing loss too. Most hearing problems in cats are associated with aging but other less common causes may occur and often very mature cats become completely deaf.

How does hearing loss occur? 
In most cases of age-related hearing loss, deafness occurs as a result of damage to the ear system and nerves. It is primarily a degenerative change. Hearing may also be diminished by obstructions in the ear such as debris, infections, masses or even medications. These should all be ruled out before making a diagnosis of degenerative hearing loss.

What are the signs of hearing loss?
Clinical signs of hearing loss in cats can be somewhat subtle and owners are often unaware of changes until they are very advanced. Early signs of deafness may include:

  • A lack of response to everyday sounds that would ordinarily elicit a response (opening a can of food or shaking a bag of treats)
  • Not hearing your footsteps when you come close
  • Being a very sound sleeper
  • Meowing very loudly
  • Failure to respond when called

How can my cat be tested for hearing loss?
Sophisticated tests are available and may be of value when evaluating kittens for the potential of breeding, but they have no bearing on the treatment or outcome. Your vet might administer a test called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER)1. It’s a painless procedure but can be expensive so ask your veterinarian to try other evaluations first. Examples of test include:

  • Tear a piece of paper behind the cat’s head. Make sure you don't touch the cat but he should turn and respond.
  • Crackle a bit of tinfoil or jingle a bunch of keys when he is sleeping or not looking. This tests high frequency hearing. 
  • Hiss. This is a universal danger sound. Shield your breath with a tissue or clothes so he can't feel you blowing. 
  • Tap a cardboard box or something that makes a drumming noise to test low frequency hearing. 

What can you do should

Related symptoms: 

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Mike has more than 35 years of experience in companion animal veterinary practice and is a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2013.