A snow-white kitty is a sight to behold, but that same beautiful animal may have a serious congenital defect. Some white cats have hearing problems and may be completely deaf. A few simple tests will determine your pretty kitty’s ability to hear.
Why Deafness Occurs
Contrary to popular belief, white cats are no more likely than any other coat color to be deaf. Deafness in white cats typically is a genetic condition, resulting from the dominant white gene, commonly referred to as the (W) gene. When cats with the (W) gene are bred, the resulting litters have the chance to inherit faulty hearing. Deaf kitties lack the small inner ear hairs that transmit sound to the ear drum, disrupting their ability to hear properly.
Breeds Prone to Deafness
Not all cat breeds are created equal, and some furry felines are more prone to deafness than others. According to the book, A Standard Guide to Cat Breeds, the following breeds carry the (W) gene: white, Scottish fold, European white, Foreign white, Norwegian forest cats, ragdoll, Siberian, white Turkish angora, white American wirehair, white Cornish rex, white American shorthair, white Devon rex, white British shorthair, white Manx, white exotic shorthair, white Persian, white Oriental shorthair, and the white Maine coon. Purebred cats of these breeds may produce deaf kittens due to both mom and dad being potential carriers of the white gene. Potential breeding cats should be tested for deafness before parenthood to reduce the chances of producing deaf kittens.
Testing for Deafness
A number of tests are available to determine your kitty’s hearing levels. The first, and most obvious, test involves making noise near the cat. Stand behind the cat and make a loud noise, such as a few loud words or a sharp whistle. A deaf kitty will not turn around or flick his ears back toward the sound. Your vet will conduct further testing, including a BAER test, to check your kitty’s hearing. Small electrodes are placed under the kitty’s skin to test minute amounts of electrical energy that determines his ability to hear. BAER testing is fairly complicated and your vet may refer you to a testing hospital for the most accurate results.
Living With a Deaf Kitty
Living with a deaf kitty isn’t too dissimilar from owning a kitty with functioning ears. The most important thing is to keep an eye on him at all times. The big outdoors is dangerous to hearing-impaired cats, so keep him inside or take him for walks on a leash. Fit your kitty with a small bell to keep track of him in the house. Approach a deaf kitty from the front, and move slowly to avoid startling him. Place your hand in front of the kitty’s face before petting him, and move your hand slowly along his body so you don’t scare him.
Louise Lawson has been a published author and editor for more than 10 years. Lawson specializes in pet and food-related articles, utilizing her 15 years as a sous chef and as a dog breeder, handler and trainer to produce pieces for online and print publications.