By understanding and responding the unique needs of your deaf cat, the two of you will develop a closer relationship and better communication skills. The sensitive pet owner can learn from watching how his or her pet reacts and adapts to its surroundings. It takes time, persistence, and patience for both owner and pet to know each other and learn to “speak” each other’s language.
Since there is no hearing to rely on, the remaining senses of the deaf cat are usually heightened. For example, a deaf pet may rely on vibration (touch), odors (smell), or lights (vision) for stimulation. My cat, Beau, a lovely and very rambunctious white Turkish Angora is profoundly deaf. He was a rescue from a shelter, and came to me at two years old, depressed and withdrawn due to his inability to connect to others. This beautiful cat sat under my coffee table for a month, forlorn and in his own little world, only coming out to eat, or use his cat box. In the following weeks, I watched his behavior and noticed that he responded when anyone walked on the hardwood floors around him. He could feel the vibrations in the floor and woke up whenever he felt movement.
To use the knowledge that he responded to vibration, I taught Beau to respond to my tapping on the floor, to come to dinner. He learned this quickly, along with quick, simple signs (wiggling my finger as to say “Come here”, for example). This was stimulating to him and his mood perked up with each new connection to his new family. He wanted to connect, and by giving him the ability to do this lifted his mood. In time, I used this combination of simple visual signs and floor tapping to teach him other basic commands ( such as “no”, “good kitty”, etc) as well.
Also, in observing him, I noticed that Beau sleeps very soundly but jumps through the roof if petted abruptly. Too much sudden touch stimulation is startling to him. So, to remedy this, I gently touch or tap whatever he is laying on, to let him know I am there and about to approach. This has cut down in the startle response tremendously.
Watching Beau in his everyday life, I also noticed that he enjoys fast moving lights and shadows. He will sit for hours, entertaining himself with any sudden movement on the walls. So, to give him a little play, using this knowledge, I bought a faceted, crystal ball sun catcher and hung it in the window. When sun hits it, rainbows fly everywhere. Being in Florida, there are always rainbows in my living room from this ball. Beau will spend the entire day chasing rainbows and will come sit next to me if there aren’t any. He looks toward the window, as if to ask if I’ll bring the rainbows back. This sun catcher is his only toy, as Beau doesn’t find normal cat toys the least bit entertaining. It is such an accomplishment for him to have something that truly makes him happy and excited.
Seeing how Beau reacts with happiness to touch, I have made a point to pet pet him frequently. If I walk by him, my hand reaches out to stroke him as I walk by. He melts like a furry, white blob of mush whenever touched, tail flapping happily. When he sees me get his brush out, he knows it is meant to use 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 the grooming of his fur by his mother long ago.
Another way I use to connect to Beau is by holding him and talking into his fur so that he can feel the vibrations of my voice box. He purrs when I do this, delighted to know I am “talking” to him. When in college years ago, next door was a school for the deaf. I remember how hard of hearing or deaf 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 to music was different than that of mine, but still just as powerfully felt. So, I use this thought when it comes in talking into Beau’s fur as I hold him. He feels me talk and though it isn’t the same as word speaking, he finds the experience positive in his own way.
One puzzling behavior Beau regularly confounds me with is his midnight opera singing. This is my latest puzzle to figure out. Being deaf, he doesn’t realize that when he sings at the tops of his lungs, he wakes everyone up in the house. Sometimes he will sit in the big windows overlooking the lake, and sing loudly at the neighbors walking by. It is cute to see him try to communicate with others, but I am working to teach 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 the moonlight serenades. It’s all about adapting to eachother. We are still learning on this one.
Living with a deaf pet is a challenging yet very rewarding experience. Beau has added variety, love and much song to our lives. He is happy, loving and very good at letting me know what he needs now. We have developed a working system of communication, and as a result, he is by my side as I work in my home office, daily. 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, caring and willing to put forth effort in understanding their new family member. Each pet is different, read about other deaf animals and learn. The result is a happy, well-adjusted cat who will give you endless love and devotion, and the peace of mind in knowing that you saved a pet from a life of total solitude. It is well worth the effort in the end.