Pets with Disabilities Series: Deaf Pets
A deaf pet can see, move, think, love and thrive as well as anyone else. The challenge for the owner is in how to considerately develop practical tools for meeting the animal's new needs.
Just as with people, various factors may play a part in an animal's hearing loss: genetics, illness, injury or old age. One indicator that is exclusive to the animal kingdom, however, is white fur. This is no guarantee of deafness, but statistically, it does increase the likelihood of a congenital condition.
When the hearing loss is gradual, the animal may compensate with other senses and instincts initially, so that while the diagnosis comes as a surprise to you, your pet may have already adapted to the change. When it is sudden, some changes in behavior that could tip you off are louder vocalizing (barking or meowing), because the animal cannot regulate his volume, or defensive behavior because, quite simply, he's are confused and upset by the inexplicable sudden silence.
There should be constants for an animal that is identified as deaf, namely compassion and love.
Sensitive training can de-sensitize your pet to various situations that might otherwise arouse a startled response - such as being approached and pet from behind - when they cannot anticipate the contact, or how to wake them gently. Keeping your pet aware of where you are by getting her attention before you leave a room will greatly reduce anxiety. Even if she's asleep, you can awaken her with a light touch, just enough to rouse her and she can then decide if she wants to follow you or not.
There are also key aspects of life that have to be redefined, primarily communication and safety.
The good news is that a dog can be trained to follow visual cues to replace many verbal commands, and the owner can be trained to use them. More good news is that since a hearing cat can hardly be expected to obey commands, there is no need to anticipate any different behavior from a deaf cat. However, with any pet, it is important to recognize the respectful way to get attention, and while this is true of hearing animals too, with deaf animals, you cannot simply use your voice.
A deaf animal can feel the vibration if you tap the floor with your foot or a stick, and this often will direct him to look at you. It is okay to toss a small and soft object into his line of vision, but take great care never to throw anything at an animal, and recognize that you might simply be transferring this attention to a spontaneous game of fetch or pounce.
To keep a pet suffering from hearing loss safe is to keep a watchful eye (or ear) on her. Placing a bell on her collar is a simple but excellent aid in keeping tabs on an animal that will no longer respond when you call their name. Collars should indicate that the animal is deaf - ideally marked clearly so that it can be read from a distance, to explain any apprehension the animal might exhibit if lost and approached by a stranger.
Plainly, being outdoors raises many challenges for our domesticated and dependent animals when they are deaf, and in general, it often poses too great a risk. Keeping them inside with you, however, can continue to enhance your quality of life and theirs, whether they can hear you whisper your affection, or not.