Help in training/raising a deaf cat.

The following tips were put together over the years in an effort to answer the most frequent questions about handling deaf cats. If you have any questions after reading this page, please do not hesitate to email us.  Thank you for being willing to give a deaf cat a chance. So many deaf cats end up in shelters because people don't understand how different they are. 

Deaf cats must be indoor only cats. They are helpless against dogs, coyotes, cars, kids, etc. because of the lack of hearing. Working with a deaf cat requires patience, common sense and consistency.  When they trust you, they make a loving and adorable pet.  It is very rewarding to work with them and see the results. They seem to crave physical contact and adore petting and lap sitting when older.  Each of our deaf cats became a loving and sweet pet no matter how wild at the start. 

For deaf cats, you must use visual, food or physical cues to encourage good behavior and to discourage bad behavior. Deaf cats are very oriented to visual (movement, lights), much more so than other cats. This seems obvious but it takes some effort to always remember that when working with a deaf cat.  They can’t hear your voice so cannot get clues from your tone.  It must be what they can see and feel.  Food and petting work wonders.

Deaf cats are easily startled, by other animals and people, and can tend to swat and spit (especially when new to the home) because they are frightened. Be patient.  If you think about it, it must seem like everything "jumps out at them".  Once a deaf cat trusts you, it will not be frightened if you touch them “from out of the blue".  Hearing cats or dogs will simply learn to not surprise the deaf kitty.  If you have a tolerant older cat, your deaf cat may begin to follow the hearing cat around and sleep with him.  This pairing will work enormous benefits and help the deaf cat will be less easily startled.

Figure out a favorite treat, like kitty pounces, that you can keep handy in a couple rooms or carry in a pocket.  This is for instant rewards (you can phase this out over time).  Also, decide on consistent hand signals the whole family will use.  Try exaggerated shaking of the index finger for "BAD", twinkling fingers at knee level for "come", and pointing at floor (kind of stab at the floor so they see the downward hand motion) for "GET DOWN".  But use what works for you.

Never swat the deaf cat with your hand (exception for nipping/scratching below).  Use a kitchen towel or lightly rolled newspaper if you have to and only if necessary (like up on the wood stove or range or squabbling with another cat).  They have to associate your hands with pets and food only with the exception of biting behavior.

The deaf cat can seem more “rowdy”.  Deaf cats don't hear the "crash" so they have a hard time learning not to tip things over.  If a hearing cat tips something over, they are frightened by the sound.  The deaf cat is only frightened if something actually falls on HIM/HER.  If something does fall it is only INTERESTING MOVEMENT.  Remember they are visual.  Deaf cats like things they can SEE, FEEL and SMELL. They like catnip but some cats get too crazy from it. They like bags because they can feel the crinkle. Give him lots of toy mice and things that move or sparkle (safely sparkle - no sequins!). 

Encourage scratching post use by placing the cat on or by post and giving pets or treats.  Rub the post with catnip to attract.  If you see your cat using the scratching post give a treat every time until cat is good about using it and not the furniture.

For destructive behavior (furniture scratching), if you can reach the cat, pick it up and place it on floor. Keep repeating – they will learn they don’t belong there.  Or use a gentle swat with a kitchen towel or lightly rolled newspaper, not a "whap or sling shot" just a light swish on the butt.  This works because you can carry it with you or place the item in various rooms (works well if you catch him trying to break into the garbage under the sink - just give it a little swish and one surprised cat will scamper off).  OR, if your house can tolerate it a toy water pistol will also work VERY well for cats that don't like water - nothing like a squirt from out of no where to discourage table walking, cupboard raiding or couch scratching.  They will not associate it with you but with what he is doing. It can work very well and is inexpensive.  (You don't need the super soaker). Every cat is different.  Experiment. 

Teach him to come by stomping the floor for vibration or use a flash light or pen light to get his attention, than twinkle fingers at knee level (he will be attracted to the motion). When he comes always pet and/or give him a treat.  Wean out the treat and he will still always come for a pet. ALWAYS reward your deaf cat with a quick pet if he comes to you.

Biting and scratching problems:  If the deaf cat is over excited immediately, but gently, grab him by the scruff of the neck.  He probably can't hook you then.  If tiny enough to safely lift, lift the kitten up.  If he is bigger just grab the scruff and gently "pin" for a moment.  This is what "momma kitty" would do.  Either lifting him up or while gently pining (and you will have a very startled kitty the first time - he will probably "freeze") shake your finger at him and make sure he can see you.  Deaf cats watch your face and will learn to associate facial expressions - both happy and not happy.  Place the cat on ground and because he was biting or scratching, do not pay attention to him until he is behaving.  He will probably run off. Make sure you act quickly, firmly and don’t hang on to him more than a second or two.  Do not shake. Be calm but firm, just enough so he gets the picture. This is a physical "NO" and should be short. As soon as you can afterward (if you see him playing with a toy or sitting quietly) REWARD him for good behavior with a pet or treat.  If he comes back to you pet him for reassurance.  Remember – the behavior is bad – not the cat!

If your cat nips:  GENTLY tap his nose with one finger.  Just one quick gentle tap. If seriously biting, you can do the scruff of the neck thing. Trade a nip for a gentle nose tap with one finger and shake your finger at him.  If he calms down, pet him and let him sit on your lap and be sure you are nonchalant (no big deal equals "I didn't get a reaction so waste of time"). If he continues to nip put him on the floor. He may swat at your finger but put him down. Only good cats get to lap sit. Deaf cats love attention so they quickly learn if they want attention they have to be good.

As you get him settled own, if he digs his claws in kneading or otherwise, same thing.  Tap his paw and continue petting or just ignore him and let him sit on you or beside you.  If he repeats, don't pet for a minute or two.  Then he has a chance to realize he is being petted if he is well behaved. He will learn to quit kneading and biting if he doesn't get attention. 

Watch for and reward as often as possible for GOOD behavior. Make a point if your deaf cat is playing in a bag or with a toy on the floor or curled up in the window - if you pass by and he is doing APPROPRIATE things or is where he SHOULD be stop and give a little pet, throw his mouse, and/or dish out a treat.  He will get the drift real quick. It is the opposite of handling a hearing dog or cat where you can ignore them if they are where they should be.   Lots and lots of petting will teach him to like being where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing. Being good will become a habit.  Work with your cat - it will not be long before the deaf cat will understand.

 Kittens have short attention spans.  Secret weapon: distraction!  Kitty on the mantle knocking over things?  Grab scruff, shake finger and make stern face. Place on floor and substitute cat toy. When play with toy occurs, REWARD.  You want to teach kitty that BAD kitty is on mantle/table, etc., GOOD kitty is on the floor. Be patient.  It does work.

 As he gets a little older, If you are going to TRAIN to get down, approach cat on table or whatever and make down motion. Then place on floor.  THEN give a treat and a quick pet.  Sounds odd but works. They associate pointing at the floor with reward. My older cats jump down on signal. I give a little pat on the head and everyone is happy.

 You want the deaf cat to always associate you with reward and petting. The only time I don't reward is when you put them down if they were biting or scratching. Then the "punishment" is no lap sitting or attention until they are good. Ours have learned to stay off the kitchen stove, wood stove etc.  And if caught on the end table or dresser they will get down with a finger point. It does work.

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