How Can I Help My Blind, Deaf Cat?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, offers advice on extra care for special-needs cats.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: March 13, 2009, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My 13-year-old cat Molly has recently gone deaf and blind. Although I work at home and am able to sit with her frequently, she still cries every few hours. Is there anything I can do to help her adjust to her new situation? She sleeps under the coffee table and I've placed her food and water dishes next to it and her litterbox is only a few feet away. She also has arthritis, and it is very hard for her get around.
 
A: Blind cats can live a long and happy life, but they do need extra care. Although their vision is important to them, cats have highly developed senses of smell and hearing, and they use these senses to navigate their environment. The fact that your cat is also deaf is a real double-whammy. Making certain they live a comfortable life is a challenge. In the last years of her life, my cat Ethel lost her eyesight and her hearing. I relocated her to my cat hospital and turned Exam Room 1 into her own personal retirement suite. She was able to live comfortably, due to the great deal of attention I (and my hospital staff) gave her. Your cat has apparently turned the spot under the coffee table into her little den, and you’re doing the right thing by placing her food bowl, water bowl and litterbox very close by. I suspect she probably won’t wander too far from this safe area. If she does, you need to make certain that she can’t get into trouble with her wandering. For example, if there’s a kitty (or doggie) door, you’ll need to close it off so that she doesn’t wander outdoors. Access to stairs needs to be restricted so that she cannot tumble down them. You may want to consider obtaining a large playpen for her, and put her food bowl, water bowl, bed, toys and litterbox in the playpen.

Your cat will rely on her memory to navigate through your home, so do not rearrange furniture or leave items lying around that she might bump into, such as shoes or a pile of laundry. This might only confuse her. Don’t carry her from one area to another, as this might confuse her, too. Let her use her own memory to find her way around. Catnip-scented toys might be a real treat for her, since her sense of smell is still working. 

Unfortunately, your cat has arthritis, and you say that it is hard for her to get around. Ask your vet about medication to help alleviate the pain and discomfort of arthritis. Supplements containing glucosamine and chondroitin are beneficial for arthritic cats, and meloxicam is a new pain medication that is now approved for use in cats and has been shown to be safe and effective for long-term use in managing chronic pain in cats.

I’m sure that many readers, after hearing about your cat being blind, deaf and arthritic, may be thinking that euthanasia is the only logical, humane option. Having taken care of my blind and deaf Ethel for almost two years, however, I do think it is worth the effort to see if you can provide a safe, loving environment for her so that her last years are meaningful. 

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Reader Comments

Diana Ashton    middletown, CT

12/14/2014 10:44:36 AM

My beautiful Siamese cat who is 14 years old is now blind and deaf. He is able to successfully find his way around my house, locating his food and water, my living room couch, and up the stairs to my bed as well as down stairs to his litter box. I am surprised at how well he navigates. He eats well and is not overweight in-spite of not being able to move around alot. His nose is always cold and I take him to the vets on a regular basis. However he does meow very deeply and loudly at the strangest times. Often at 4 am which wakes me up out of a sound sleep and then on and off during the day. The meowing is very stressful to me as there is little I can to but try to reassure him and pick him up. That appears to calm him and he soon stops but it also frustrates me though I know he can't help it. I doubt there is anything I can do and it hurts me that he is crying out for help like that. I am sure there are times he is completely disoriented. My vet said that he might have dementia which is causing the meowing but knows since I can't ask him. Not sure what to do. I do think about putting him down for his sake as I really can't know how much his situation is a torment to him or not. It is to me

Diana Ashton    middletown, CT

12/14/2014 10:35:28 AM

I found it helpful insofar as it tells me I am not alone in dealing with a blind and deaf cat. It bothers me so much that I can't help him when he meows and he sure does that at the worst times. It grates on my nerves and I do not always want to get up and pick him up.

Basil    Regina, SK

7/31/2014 9:17:12 PM

This is a very helpful and useful article. We have two Burmese cats - brother and sister, both just turned 18. Treemonisha, who may be the only male cat named after a female opera heroine, and there is of course a story that goes with that, has recently gone blind with detached retinas. Treatment to encourage reattachment has been unsuccessful. He has been under treatment for hyperthyroidism for over a year and has recovered from being a cat next to death's door to gaining lost weight and apparently enjoying life. Of course, getting special treatment to encourage him to take his meds such as salmon or tuna probably helps too. Our vet is really encouraging us and checks up regularly to see how he's doing. He's also deaf, though sometimes it seems selective. The two cats still sleep in a heap as they've done since kitten hood, though I don't think his sister is t,relating him any different than she's always done. The mad dashes around the house have stopped; it's hard to navigate on hardwood floors, especially when you can't see. My mother in law immediately suggested having the cat put down; she has been told firmly that's not an option unless he has a critical health emergency that makes it the only humane thing to do. At the moment, he's a loving pet who purrs so loudly when he goes to see the vet that she can't easily hear his heart!

Clarissia    Rising Star, TX

11/27/2013 8:39:58 PM

I have adopted a deaf/blind kitten. He is doing remarkably well. Except for when my kittens try to play with him. Then he is scared. Any suggestions?

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