You may have wondered how you should train a deaf cat or maybe you know one and are interested in the training process.
It’s known that cats learn new tricks and behaviors through vocal sounds.
They learn best by teaching them monosyllabic words like “stay”, “come” or “sit”.
So how do you train a deaf cat without using sounds and words?
Actually, it’s not that different from training any other cat if you use clear visual gestures.
Getting Her Attention
Many trainers recommend simply tapping your cat to get his attention but I wouldn’t recommend that due to its impracticality in everyday situations or if a recall is necessary.
Complications could occur where your cat might repeatedly get frightened by sudden touch.
You can imagine it like walking through the city hearing loud music through headphones and suddenly someone is tapping on your shoulder.
This fear can cause her to accidentally snap at someone.
Deaf cats can still see and they are very sensitive to feeling vibrations.
So a better idea would be to walk or move your hands in front of her to get his attention.
Another way would be by tapping on the ground because cats have the ability to feel vibrations and can react to where they were coming from.
When it’s dark, a flashlight could be used as a recall signal.
Praising and Rewarding
Verbal praise like “good boy” won’t work for a hearing impaired cat.
But you can always use treats to reward desired behavior.
It is very important that you are using low calorie treats, because you will be feeding them constantly throughout the day.
Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your cat's diet.
You could also try some fruit or vegetables that your cat likes or you could make some DIY sardine cat treats.
If treats are not his thing, try out toys that he likes to play with and use them as a reward.
Petting as praise is especially efficient with deaf cats because their senses, like smell and touch, are even more developed.
If you decide on petting as a reward, we want to slowly introduce the concept that pet equals treat.
Start by gently petting your cat when he is sleepy and just when he responds to it, give her a treat.
You can also use a hand signal for the good work he did. It’s pretty similar to clicker training.
“Click” means a treat is coming, so you can choose something like a thumbs up so your cat will know that this behavior was right.
In short, your possibilities to reward are:
- Hand signals
For safety reasons, you should always keep your deaf cat on a leash. I know that it sounds hard but there are too many owners letting their cats off-leash without a strong recall anyway.
As soon as your cat is out of sight due to being startled or chasing something, it’s hard to call her back.
While you could really hone a cat's recall, you can never call back your deaf cat. If your cat is already meters away, no vibration and obviously no signs will work.
Not only for the safety of other people and pets but for the health of your own cat, you should keep her on a leash.
If you want to provide her with more freedom you can always attach a long leash and if you have a fenced area maybe in your backyard where you can see every corner, then your cat can spend a little time off-leash.
Using Hand Signals
Without being able to vocally communicate with your deaf cat, you will have to rely on the ability for her to understand sign language.
Like you would choose a word for a cat with regular hearing ability, you now have to choose a gesture for each command.
Always try to be as clear as possible when choosing a sign for your cat as you do not want her to get confused.
It often helps to pair the visual command with speaking.
Although your cat cannot hear the words, it will be more natural for both of you.
“Sit” could mean a finger moving upwards or “come” could mean a hand wave towards yourself.
Most owners use American Sign Language to teach their cats new words but you can always choose your own.
Here are a few examples of signs that you could use for your cat:
Make sure that you have the full attention of your cat so he can clearly remember your movements.
As a reward, you can choose one of the things that we talked about above. Remember to always use the same praise marker like the thumbs up before giving her a treat.
If you have a very young cat, you should keep each training session short and spread them throughout the day.
For example, you could integrate a 5-minute session in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening.
Avoid training sessions right after a meal and right after a walk because he might not be as hungry but even more tired.
If you recognize that he gets bored or tired you should only make one last command and give her lots of praise after it.
The next time you will have to keep the session shorter because we want to make it a positive experience.
Always show patience and understanding, some cats need longer than others to learn something and that’s okay.
If you want to get some help you can always consult a professional cat trainer.
After you have taught her a few commands, it’ll become a habit and it won’t feel any different compared to training any other cat.
Vibrating Collars for Deaf Cats
A vibrating collar would be the only way to get back a running deaf cat.
They don’t give electric shocks and should not be confused with e-collars.
It is only gently vibrating when you press a button. You can use this as a recall or a “look at me” command.
Teaching “Look at Me”
You have probably heard the saying that if you have the cat's eyes, you have the cat's full attention.
It is very important for felines to make eye contact, they are actually the only animals besides primates that make real emotional eye contact that they are aware of.
Teaching your cat the command “look at me” is just as important as for any other cat and you can really build up communication with your deaf cat using this command.
- Sit in front of your cat and get his attention by using one of the methods above. Grab your cat's favorite treat and hold it under his nose to show it to her.
- Now you place the treat between your fingers and move it upwards your face between your eyes. This will naturally point his eyes at you.
- Every time he makes eye contact, show her the reward cue and give her a treat.
- You can do this a few times before every training session to establish focus.
What you could also do instead, is using the vibrating collar until your cat looks at you which you could form into general conditioning.
If you train her that way, the vibration would also mean that he has to come back to you and look you in the eyes which would be great as a recall command.
When he makes eye contact with you throughout the day, reward her for that every time as we want to encourage this behavior through positive reinforcement.
In case your cat gets distracted while training, get his attention back by tapping on his shoulder or moving a treat under his nose.
Recommended Reading: 10 Tricks for Intelligent Cats
The Right Communication
As I pointed out before, the right communication is extremely important, especially with a deaf cat.
We often assume that we are showing very clearly what we want and what we expect from our cat but is that really always the case?
Did your cat really get the concept or did he just remember a certain movement? I have added a great example of this for better understanding:
Imagine for a moment that you are training your cat to place a red toy on top of a blue one.
Continue to pretend that after your cat has (seemingly) mastered the behavior, she performs that behavior correctly 100% of the time for two weeks straight.
Then, one day, your cat places the blue toy on top of the red one.
The issue is not stubbornness, nor defiance, but rather a problem of communication. Your cat may have thought all along that the correct behavior was to stack up the two toys.Clickertraining
Always be as clear as possible and don’t overwhelm yourself or your cat.
Take baby steps and don’t expect your deaf cat to know everything from day one.
Additional Information on Deafness in Cats
Not all cats are born deaf. Deafness can also be caused by chronic ear infections.
If they are not treated correctly, your cat might experience deafness later in his life.
There are a few breeds like the British Shorthair that are prone to deafness. Actually, 30% of British Shorthair kittens are born deaf which puts them at a much higher risk than any other breed.
Scientists assume that the lack of pigment cells in white cats causes impaired hearing. Albinos are also very prone to eye and ear disabilities.
If your cat suddenly stops reacting to certain sounds that he has reacted to before, you will want to check with your vet if his hearing is still okay.
There is also a medical test called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response procedure in which the hearing abilities can be tested.
What is your experience with working with a deaf cat? Let me know in the comments.
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