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Living With A Disabled Cat – Part 2

| November 3, 2010

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled=

Some cats are born disabled, other have suffered accidents or the degenerative effects of old age. A disabled cat can still lead a full and enjoyable life, given a chance and an understanding owner. Cats adapt their lifestyles to cope with disability far more easily than do most humans


Cats that keep bumping into things either can’t co-ordinate their limbs or can’t see. A blind eye is often cloudy or the pupil remains dilated even in bright light. Some cats are born without eyes (anopthalmia) or with very small eyes (micropthalmia) which may not function. Others lose their sight either permanently or temporarily as a result of illness, physical injury, brain damage or poisoning (including extreme reaction to anaesthesia) and conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts or scarring caused by untreated entropion (inturned eyelashes).

The degree of blindness varies from total blindness to partial blindness (cloudy sight, ability to differentiate between light and shade, tunnel vision) in much the same way that human blindness varies. Usually the loss of sight is gradual and the cat compensates gradually so that you don’t even realise how bad its sight is. Sometimes illness or injury necessitates the removal of one or both eyes. Sudden blindness is more noticeable because the cat is disoriented, hesitant when walking, bumps into things and may vocalize more often (some cats appear to listen for sound echoes).

Where a cat becomes suddenly blind it may develop unusual behaviours until it learns to adapt. It may be unwilling to leave its sleeping area and may develop inappropriate toilet habits because it is unable to find the litter tray. It will be reluctant to go outdoors to toilet. It may appear withdrawn and call out (when disoriented or in need of reassurance).

To test your cat’s vision, cover each eye in turn and see if its other eye can follow a moving finger or responds to a finger moving towards the uncovered eye. You can also test its response to a torch (flashlight) being flashed on and off in the direction of the eye, but this is not 100% accurate since blindness is not always seated in the eyeball itself – the pupil may respond to light, but the normal ‘vision signals’ are not correctly processed by the brain.

A cat blind in one eye may lash out in self-defence at sudden movements on its blind side. A cat with unilateral blindness may turn its head more often in order to compensate for the reduced field of vision. It may also have problems with depth perception since it has lost the stereoscopic area of vision – one-eyed cats often take several ‘sightings’ of a chair (etc) before jumping onto it, but quickly memorize the heights of such objects for future reference. Fully blind cats may clamber onto things rather than jump, but many also memorize heights and distances which is why furniture should not be rearranged and obstructions should not be left on the floor when there is a blind cat in the house.

A blind cat is easily disoriented and should not be allowed to roam; indoors only or indoors with access to a fenced pen or garden is best. It may enjoy supervised forays in the garden using a harness and lead. Make sure it is wearing a collar stating its address and disability in case it escapes. If it is allowed to roam freely and is chased by another animal it may become lost or run into the path of traffic. Because it relies so much on scent/sound, a lost blind cat will probably be unable to find its way home once it is beyond its normal territory.

Blind cats rely on scent and memory to find their way around so keep furniture in the same place and don’t leave obstacles in unexpected places where he could walk into them. If he is prone to bumping into furniture, try padding table legs and chair legs with old pillows or some foam to reduce impact damage. While most blind cats soon memorize routes and distances, not all manage this feat and rely on ‘bumping into’ their signposts.

Whiskers become more important to blind cats to judge the cat’s proximity to an object. This means they are subjected to more wear and tear than normal and can be broken or even worn down!

Sound is also important to a blind cat. Noisy toys such as balls with bells in, a noisy paper sack or a scrunched up paper ball will provide stimulation. Many blind cats learn how dribble scrunched paper balls or jingly toys.

Carrying a blind cat around can disorient it so if you must move it, place it somewhere it knows well such as its feeding or sleeping area so that it can easily get its bearings. Don’t move its litter tray or feeding areas around, it needs to find them easily by memory or use them as landmarks. Don’t lift a blind cat onto raised surfaces as he will probably be disoriented and fall off. This might not apply if he is being lifted onto a familiar surface such as a favourite chair or your bed.

If the owner takes care to provide a safe, stimulating environment then a blind cat or kitten can have a life which is a rich and happy as any sighted cat. Because blind cats are often able to adapt so well to the absence of this sense, many owners of blind kittens do not realise that the kitten is blind for some considerable length of time! There are also numerous reports of blind cats with access to outdoor enclosures successfully hunting birds and small mammals using scent and hearing alone. Interestingly, other cats are often more tolerant of blind cats (which may collide with them) than they are of sighted cats.

Moving House With A Blind Cat

These are not definitive rules, but common sense guidelines. For the most part they are similar to settling a sighted cat into a new home – starting with one room and expanding this territory over time. For a blind cat, you will need to take extra care that the surroundings are safe and progress may be slower. Encouragement, reassurance and rewards are essential.

Before you move, get your cat used to spending time or sleeping in a room on his own. Make sure the room is kitted out with a litter tray, a bed and with food and water. These facilities will be in addition to his normal litter tray, bed and eating area. This is necessary because you will have to confine him to one room when you arrive at your new home. Spend time with him in that room before closing the door for the night. So that he knows it is not a punishment, put some treat foods (varying these over time) in the room or give him special fuss e.g. petting, grooming. He will associate the room with quality time. If possible, spend the first few nights in there with him. Leaving a radio playing on low volume will provide company if you feel he is suffering from loneliness.

After you move, you will have to introduce your blind cat one room at a time to the new home. This room must be set up with familiar things (bed, litter tray) and will be his new “safe room”. He needs to scent mark (with his cheek glands and flanks) the new surroundings so he can find his way and feel at home. He also needs to feel his way around and memorise his surroundings. This is best done one room at a time. At first it will be difficult to watch because he does not know where he is.

When he gets his bearings on the first room, let him extend his boundaries. Supervise these excursions until he seems confident. If you are in a home with multiple floors, temporarily block off the stairs. Use your voice to provide encouragement for him to follow you. Getting down on hands and knees to “walk him around” may help (I have used this trick with a very shy sighted cat). At first he must spend his nights in his safe room until he gains confidence and has memorised his surroundings. Once he is familiar with one level, you can extend his boundaries to the next level at his own pace i.e. remove the block on the stairs. When you can’t be there to supervise, confine him to the original level until he is confident on the stairs and on both upstairs and downstairs.

Eventually you will have to shift his core territory from the safe room to the intended sleeping, eating and eliminating area. He may already have chosen a preferred area and you can move his bed and his food there. More likely you will have to duplicate his sleeping, eating and eliminating facilities i.e. one set in his safe room and one set in the final areas (living room, kitchen, bathroom etc) otherwise he will get totally confused at the sudden disappearance of his litter tray and accidents may result. When he is consistently using the tray in the preferred location, you can remove the one in the safe room

Make sure there are lots of treats and plenty of interaction while he settles into the new surrounding. Provide encouragement to explore and reassurance when he becomes disoriented or uncertain. If he becomes disoriented, guide him back to a familiar place, preferably with your voice or be walking with him. Only pick him up and place him in a familiar place (e.g. his bed) as a last resort.


Some cats, e.g. some blue-eyed whites, are born deaf. Many other cats are thought to be ‘grumpy’ by owners who don’t realise that their cat can’t hear. Deafness can be congenital or related to age, illness or physical injury. Many cats lose their hearing gradually as they age (as do many humans), sudden loss of hearing is normally the result of illness or injury and may be temporary or permanent.

Where hearing loss is gradual, it can be ages before you realise that Puss is deaf because the cat compensates for its lack of hearing. Where hearing loss is sudden, the cat may appear confused, irritable, over-attached to the owner, insecure or exhibit other ‘unusual’ behaviours in response to the sudden loss of this sense. Some deaf cats call out more often and more loudly (they cannot regulate their own volume) while others may become mute.

As with blindness, deafness varies in degree. In most older cats, hearing loss is gradual and not apparent until the later stages since cats do not always respond to being called. A cat with unilateral deafness may turn its head more often to increase the chance of picking up sounds with the hearing ear.

Poor hearing makes cats defensive – they strike out first and ask questions later. Click your finger nails close to each ear in turn (make sure that it can’t see your hands though) – does it respond? Is it easily startled if you approach it from behind and touch it?

Some deaf cats learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used in distance control of dogs. At close range, sharp handclaps might provide enough vibration in the air to get the cat’s attention. Flashing a torch (flashlight), shone in the direction of the cat, on and off can be used to call it in from the garden at dusk (this also works with hearing cats) especially if it the flashing light is followed by a tasty incentive.

Deaf cats cannot hear warning sounds such as car engines, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If it goes outdoors, make sure it is wearing a collar (in case it is startled by something and bolts) and write ‘I AM DEAF’ on the collar to help people who wonder why the cat fails to react to shouts, car horns etc.

A noisy bell on its collar will help you to locate its whereabouts when it is in motion. It is safest to confine a deaf cat to a safely fenced garden unless, like me, you are in a quiet area with no aggressive dogs and plenty of cat-lovers pre pared to take extra care.

In June 2003, a German acoustics expert announced his invention of a hearing aid for cats. Hans-Rainer Kurz, a hearing aid specialist, took two years to develop the hearing aid with help from experts at the Vetenarian University in Hanover. They developed a tiny device, which can be implanted in the cat’s outer ear. Herr Kurz has already had success with a similar aid for dogs. He admitted that the device would not cure totally deaf cats, but could help those with severe hearing difficulties. The hearing aid ensures that the cat is able to take the usual acoustic signals and re-work them into sounds in the brain. Quiet sounds that hearing-impaired cats had never heard before would become distinguishable. The feline hearing aid currently costs around £300.


Despite a dark silent existence, deaf-blind cats can enjoy life since they rely on their keen sense of smell and their sense of touch through whiskers on the face and also on the lower leg. Cats which have been blind throughout much of their lives may eventually suffer the additional problem of age-related deafness. Most of the considerations noted for blind cats and for deaf cats apply.

A deaf-blind cat may hear you approaching by vibrations of the air and of the floor. It is likely to become defensive and is easily startled. It can be alerted to your presence by blowing gently in its direction. At mealtimes, blow across the food bowl to waft the scent towards it. Such cats can never be allowed outdoors unsupervised.

Confine a deaf-blind cat to familiar areas of the house where they can learn their way around and could sunbathe near a window. A mesh covered window can provide ventilation and scents from outdoors, but the room must be escape-proof for the cat’s own safety.

When you are at home, a deaf-blind cat can have free run of the familiar area under a watchful eye; but while you are out, make sure the cat is in a safe, escape-proof room or pen with food, water and litter within easy reach (do not move the locations of these necessities, it will confuse the cat). Catnip-scented toys provide stimulation.

A harness and leash allow such cats to go into the garden and enjoy the natural textures and scents. Cat-safe plants such as catmint, cat-thyme or Japanese cat-vines can provide enjoyment. This way they can ‘feel’ the owner’s reassuring presence because through the leash. Whenever they feel disoriented, indoors or outdoors on a leash, most deaf-blind cats learn to sit still, wailing, until help arrives and they are moved back to a familiar area.

Like blind cats, deaf-blind cats memorize their surroundings, but they are doubly at risk because they cannot hear dangers approaching. Block off hazards such as stairs and fireplaces with a solid barrier – make sure the cat cannot stand on tiptoe and find the top of the barrier or it may decide to clamber over! As with a deaf cat, a noisy bell on its collar will help you locate it as it explores.

A deaf-blind cat can never have unsupervised access to outdoors or to unfamiliar or hazardous parts of your home. Make sure it knows exactly where to find its food and also litter tray otherwise accidents will ensue. Such cats, if cared for well, gain plenty of enjoyment through their senses of smell and touch.

Moving House With A Deaf-Blind Cat

For moving house with a deaf-blind cat, the guidelines are much the same as for moving house with a blind cat (covered in the section about blind cats) except that sound stimuli (encouragement, reassurance) must be replaced by touch and smell i.e. stroking, walking the layout on hands and knees with the cat alongside you (this really does work as it mimics the way a mother cat leads her kittens), encouraging the cat to explore by offering food treats.

Copyright & Credit:
Copyright 2009, Sarah Hartwell – MESSYBEAST.COM

Photo copyright and courtesy: Lena Povrzenic – stock.xchng

Category: Feline Health and Care, Feline Resources, Felines Disabilities & Medical Conditions

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