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Many reasons cat can become deaf

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 1/2/2022 Dr. John De Jong
a cat lying on a blue surface: Veterinarian treating cat's ear. Photo Getty Images © Provided by Boston Herald Veterinarian treating cat's ear. Photo Getty Images

My cat is only 6 years old, and he has always been in the best of health. He still seems to be healthy except for one thing — he seems to have suddenly become deaf. He would always come running whenever I would be opening his food and that has ceased to happen. Additionally, he no longer responds when I call for him and he seems completely unaware of any sounds around him. There is no response, no look, and I have tried every way to assess his hearing. He was always very vocal but now meows more and louder than ever before and always wants to be near me. I had my vet look at him and he agreed that, in fact, the cat seems to act deaf. Can sudden deafness occur when all else seems normal? What can cause it and is it reversible? What do you suggest I consider doing next?

Cats can be born deaf or with poor hearing and it is often associated with white cats, usually with blue eyes. Yet not all of these are deaf. Cats can also lose their hearing, sometimes quickly, when they get older, but it is not something typically found in a cat that is only 6 years old.

Acute hearing loss is usually associated with traumatic injury, inner ear infections and occasionally ear canal infections with rupture of the ear drum called the tympanic membrane. Other causes include certain viral illnesses, certain drug exposures, tumors, nerve degeneration and more. The downside is that, if the cat is actually deaf at this point, there is not likely anything that will restore his hearing unless the cause is something reversible like an inner or outer ear infection, which might be treated medically, or he has a removable mass or tumor. If any of those conditions were to exist the cat might have a head tilt, circle a lot or provide other clues. All of the signs that you described, such as increased and louder meows, increased affection and lack of responses to various stimuli, are consistent with a deaf cat. If your veterinarian has checked him out and found nothing obvious, my guess is that while a thorough physical examination revealed nothing, further testing might be warranted such as an MRI or the BAER response test, which is not done in many places and is usually done by veterinary neurologists. Your local veterinarian can probably help you locate a facility that can do that if you so choose. That might define a diagnosis but not necessarily change the outcome. The good news is that if your cat is otherwise healthy and doing well, presumably he can live an otherwise normal long, and healthy life. Good luck.

Dr. John de Jong owns and operates the Boston Mobile Veterinary Clinic. He can be reached at 781-899-9994.

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