Teaching and Training a Deaf Cat
Some folks argue that no cat can be taught or trained to do anything she doesn’t want to do! On the contrary: Cats are so smart it’s almost scary.
Teaching and training a deaf cat simply means communicating effectively. Although this may take a bit more thought and planning than teaching and training a hearing cat, the rewards are great for both the cat and us. Deafness can be an isolating experience. Creating good communication can minimize that potential loneliness.
"Teaching and training a deaf cat simply means communicating effectively."
Are there special things I may notice in my deaf cat that I won’t see in cats who can hear?
Deaf cats rely on their remaining senses, especially vision and touch.
- Vibrations of all kinds take on new meaning for deaf cats. They may feel the floorboards vibrate as you walk by, the pulsing of the baseline from loud music, the flushing of the toilet, or the slamming of a door.
- Deaf cats often notice a lot more than you might expect. The vibration of their own voice is another sensation they may notice and enjoy. Deaf cats may purr louder than their hearing counterparts. They may also meow much louder than you’re used to hearing. They may walk into a bathroom or walk-in shower and shriek, enjoying the vibration of their voice reverberating from the tiled walls and floor.
- Deaf cats will often position themselves to minimize the risk of being startled. They may want to hang out in very high places, like the top of the refrigerator or a kitty condo facing out into the room. You can anticipate their need for security by creating lookout spots in various areas of the home. A courtesy to a deaf cat is to walk with a heavier stride or to gently tap the surface on which they sleep to let them know you are near. (Also see the handout “Living with a Deaf Cat.”)
"You can anticipate your deaf cat’s need for security by creating lookout spots in various areas of the home."
What hand signals do I need to know to communicate with my deaf cat?
There are no “set” hand signals for teaching and training a deaf cat. This means there are no “wrong” hand signals. The key is to choose a few you will use, and then be consistent.
- Some people choose American Sign Language (ASL) signs or modify these signs for simple one-handed use.
- Some people simply make up their own signs (often with a little help from an ASL dictionary).
No matter what signs you use, be sure to teach them to family and friends so they can “talk cat,” too!
Where do I start with teaching and training my deaf cat?
As with any teaching and training process, the keys are patience, persistence, and creativity. If there are hearing cats in the household, your job may be easier because the deaf cat will learn the household routines from those cats.
"Start with the basics, such as “come here.”
Start with the basics, such as “come here.” Get the deaf cat’s attention, and when she’s looking at you, use your sign for “come here” and then pat the floor near you, the sofa next to you, or your lap if you’re sitting in a chair. Reward your cat with a nice stroke along the torso. Some cats will respond to small tasty training treats, so explore your options to change it up with more interesting rewards.
The same principle applies to “time for dinner.” When it’s the usual time for a meal, get your cat’s attention and use your chosen signal as you move toward the feeding area. With consistency, it will not take long for your cat to beat you to the dish once you give the signal!
Are there any special training tips or aids I can use with my deaf cat?
We can take advantage of a deaf cat’s other heightened senses in a number of ways.
- Be sure to use your voice and appropriate facial expressions when you are teaching a command. Smile for a “happy” command like “come here” or “let’s eat.” Frown and give a thumbs-down when teaching “no.”
- You can use a laser pointer or a flashlight to play or to direct your cat’s attention to a specific place.
- You may want to consider a vibrating collar that allows you to send a gentle vibration to the collar when you want to get your cat’s attention or distract her from an undesirable behavior.
Can I teach and train my cat who became deaf because of age?
It’s a myth that you can’t teach an old cat new tricks. Any cat (including hearing cats) can learn hand signals. Older cats can learn new things, including how to watch for hand signals. The principles of training are the same as for a cat who is born deaf.
Can my deaf cat ever go outside?
"A deaf cat should never be allowed outside on her own."
A deaf cat should never be allowed outside on her own. She can’t hear danger approaching—dogs, other cats, traffic—and can easily make a fatal error.
That said, most cats can be trained to use a harness and leash. Be sure to choose a snug, custom-fit harness and start your training in the house, where it is safe.
Another option is to create an outdoor enclosure attached to the house that allows for safe outdoor time. These kinds of environmental enrichments are good for any cat, deaf or hearing.
What is my takeaway message?
Invest the time, energy, and patience to train your deaf cat, and the rewards will be enormous!