By understanding and responding to your deaf cat’s unique needs, the two of you will develop a closer relationship and better communication skills. A sensitive pet owner can learn by observing how their pet reacts and adapts to their environment. It takes time, persistence, and patience for both owner and pet to get to know each other and learn to “speak” each other’s language.
Since there is no hearing to rely on, the deaf cat’s remaining senses are usually heightened. For example, a deaf pet may rely on vibration (touch), odors (smell), or lights (vision) for stimulation. My cat, Beau, a charming and very mischievous white Turkish Angora, is profoundly deaf. He was a rescue from a shelter and he came to me at two years old, depressed and withdrawn due to his inability to connect with others. This beautiful cat sat under my coffee table for a month, abandoned and in his own little world, he would only come out to eat or use his cat box. Over the next few weeks, I watched his behavior and noticed that he responded when someone walked on the hardwood floors around him. He could feel the vibrations in the ground and woke up every time he felt movement.
To use the knowledge that he responded to vibration, I taught Beau to respond to my knocking on the floor, to come over for dinner. He picked this up quickly, along with quick and simple signs (flicking as if to say “Come here,” for example). This was uplifting for him and his mood improved with each new connection with his new family. He wanted to connect, and by giving her the ability to do so, he lifted his spirits. Over time, I used this combination of simple visual cues and tapping on the floor to teach him other basic commands (like “no,” “good kitty,” etc.).
Also, watching him, I noticed that Beau sleeps very soundly but jumps through the ceiling if you pet him abruptly. He starts giving her too much sudden tactile stimulation. So, to remedy this, I gently tap or tap on whatever he’s lying on, to let him know I’m there and about to get close. This has greatly reduced the startle response.
Watching Beau in his everyday life, I also noticed that he enjoys fast-moving lights and shadows. She will sit for hours, being entertained by any sudden movement on the walls. So to give it some play, using this knowledge, I bought a faceted crystal ball suncatcher and hung it in the window. When the sun shines, rainbows fly everywhere. Being in Florida, there are always rainbows in my living room from this ball. Beau will spend all day chasing rainbows and will come sit next to me if there aren’t any. He looks out the window, as if asking if I’ll bring back the rainbow. This suncatcher is the only toy of his, as Beau doesn’t find normal cat toys the least bit entertaining. It is a great achievement for him to have something that really makes him happy and excited.
Seeing how Beau reacts happily to touching him, I made it a point to pet him frequently. If I walk alongside him, my hand reaches out to pat him as I walk. It melts into a fuzzy white lump of mush every time it’s touched, its tail wagging happily. When he sees me take the brush out of it, he knows it’s meant to be used on him and sits expectantly, waiting for it. Something as small as a brush is a comfort to him, as if the brushing is like his mother brushing his skin long ago.
Another way I use to connect with Beau is to hug him and talk to his fur so he can feel the vibrations from my larynx. He purrs when I do this, delighted to know I’m “talking” to him. When I was in college years ago, there was a school for the deaf next door. I remember how deaf or hard of hearing people still liked to go to rock concerts. When I asked a friend of mine (who is partially deaf) why she liked concerts, she told me it was because she could feel the vibrations of the music. Her experience with music was different from mine, but just as powerful. So, I use this thought when it comes to talking to Beau’s fur while holding it. She feels me speak and, although it is not the same as speaking with words, she finds the experience positive in her own way.
One disconcerting behavior Beau regularly confuses me with is his midnight opera singing. This is my last puzzle to solve. Being deaf, he doesn’t realize that when he sings at the top of his lungs, he wakes up everyone in the house. He sometimes sits at the big windows overlooking the lake and sings loudly to passing neighbors. It’s nice to see him try to communicate with others, but I’m working on teaching him ways to channel his singing talents without scaring anyone. By keeping him awake and stimulated all day, I found that Beau sleeps through the night and that cuts down on moonlight serenades. It’s all a matter of adapting to each other. We are still learning about this.
Living with a deaf pet is a challenging but very rewarding experience. Beau has added variety, love and lots of singing to our lives. He is happy, loving and very good at letting me know what he needs right now. We have developed a communication work system and as a result, he is by my side as I work in my home office, every day. He has taught me to be more sensitive and I have taught him to come out of hiding and enjoy life. With a little teamwork, we have both grown. I highly recommend adopting a deaf pet for anyone who is patient, loving, and willing to put in the effort to understand their new family member. Each pet is different, read about other deaf animals and learn. The result is a happy, balanced cat that will bring you unending love and devotion, and the peace of mind that you saved a pet from a life of total loneliness. It is worth the effort in the end.