Communicate with your deaf cat

By understanding and responding to your deaf cat’s unique needs, the two of you will develop a closer relationship and better communication skills. The sensitive pet owner can learn by observing how their pet reacts and adjusts to its environment. It takes time, perseverance and patience for both the owner and the 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 depend on vibration (touch), smells (smell), or lights (vision) for stimulation. My cat, Beau, a charming and very boisterous white Turkish Angora, is profoundly deaf. He was a rescued from a shelter and came to me at two years old, depressed and withdrawn due to his inability to connect with others.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, helpless and in his own little world, just hanging out to eat or use his cat box. Over the next several weeks, I watched his behavior and noticed that he responded when someone walked on the hardwood floors around him. He could feel the vibrations on the ground and he woke up every time he felt a movement.

To use the knowledge that I was responding to vibration, I taught Beau to respond to my blows on the floor, to come to dinner. He learned this quickly, along with quick and simple signs (wagging my finger as if to say “Come here”, for example). This was exhilarating for him and his mood perked up with each new connection to his new family. She wanted to connect, and giving her the ability to do so lifted her spirits. Over time, I used this combination of simple visual cues and tapping the floor to teach her other basic commands (like “no,” “good kitty,” etc.) as well.

Also, looking at him, I noticed that Beau is a sound sleeper, but jumps off the ceiling if he is abruptly stroked. Too much sudden tactile stimulation surprises him. So to remedy this, I gently touch or tap whatever is lying down, to let it know that I am there and about to approach. This has greatly reduced the startle response.

As I watched Beau in his everyday life, I also noticed that he enjoys fast moving lights and shadows. It will sit for hours, entertaining itself with any sudden movement on the walls. So to give it some play, using this knowledge, I bought a faceted crystal ball sun catcher and hung it on the window. When the sun hits it, rainbows fly everywhere. Being in Florida, there are always rainbows in my living room from this dance. Beau will spend the entire day chasing rainbows and will sit next to me if there aren’t any. He looks out the window, as if to ask if I’ll bring the rainbow back. This sun catcher is his only toy, as Beau doesn’t find normal cat toys in the least entertaining. It is a great achievement for him to have something that really makes him happy and excited.

Seeing how Beau reacts with joy to touching him, I have made it a point to pet him frequently. If I walk beside him, my hand reaches out to caress him as I walk. It melts like a fluffy white mush every time it is touched, its tail flapping happily. When he sees me take out his brush, he knows it is meant to be used on him and he sits expectantly, waiting for it. Something as small as a brush is a comfort to him, as if brushing was like his mother combing his fur 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 of my larynx. He purrs when I do this, delighted to know that I am “talking” to him. When I was in college years ago there was a school for the deaf next door. I remember deaf or hard of hearing people still liked going to rock concerts. When I asked a friend of mine (who is partially deaf) why she liked concerts, she said it was because she could feel the vibrations of the music. His 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. He feels me talking and although it is not the same as speaking words, he finds the experience positive in his own way.

One puzzling behavior that Beau regularly mistakes me for 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 everyone in the house. Sometimes he sits by the large windows overlooking the lake and sings loudly to the neighbors who pass by. It’s nice to see him try to communicate with others, but I’m working to teach him ways to channel his singing talent without scaring anyone off. Keeping him awake and stimulated all day, I found that Beau sleeps through the night, and that cuts down on moonlight serenades. It’s about adapting to each other. We are still learning about this one.

Living with a deaf pet is a challenging but very rewarding experience. Beau has added variety, love, and a lot of song to our lives. He is happy, caring and very good at letting me know what he needs now. We have developed a communication system that works, and as a result, he is by my side while 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 deaf pet adoption for anyone who is patient, loving, and willing to go the extra mile to understand their new family member. Every pet is different, read about other deaf animals and learn. The result is a happy, well-adjusted cat that will bring you endless love and devotion, and the peace of mind of knowing that you saved a pet from a life of utter loneliness. It is worth the effort in the end.

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