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( Originally Published 1936 )
Cats have very acute hearing. At a convention of the American Otological Society in Atlantic City, a McGill University man exhibited a group of cats that had been trained to associate certain sounds with food, and showed that the cats responded to sounds that the listening scientists could not hear at all. It was proved, in terms of cycles per second, that a cat hears more than twice as well as a normal human. Perhaps that is why they are often so nervous. It must be very distracting to hear all the mice and caterwauling within such a wide radius.
Very few cats are deaf. When they are, it is usually due to an injury or to disease. One hears of deaf albino cats, but Clyde E. Keeler, of Harvard University, and Virginia Cobb, of the Boston Cat Club, who have made a joint study of variations in pigmentation produced by matings, state in an article in the Journal of Heredity for May, 193 3, that "we have no indisputable record of complete albinism in the cat, and if it exists at all, it may possibly be confused with dominant blue-eyed white."
I am told by some fanciers that deafness is found in blue-eyed whites oftener than in cats of any other color, but an English breeder of whites, Lady Alexander, has been quoted as saying, "With very few exceptions all our cats have had perfect hearing." It is well that there are few deaf cats, for they are rather pathetic; they have a wistful look, and they appear stupid sometimes, when they are not stupid at all. Like most hard-of-hearing people, they talk very loud.
Ear hygiene is very important in the prevention of disease. Look out for wax, for it may be the first sign of trouble. Otodectic mange, commonly called parasitic canker of the ear, produces a brown wax which, when examined with a microscope, is seen to be swarming with minute organisms. Longhaired cats are especially subject to this disease, but no breed is immune; it is a very general feline complaint. Sometimes the parasites are very irritating, constraining their involuntary host to scratch its ears perpetually, but sometimes they have been found to be present when the cat showed no discomfort at all.
The worst feature of otodectic mange is that it leads sometimes to otitis, a cruelly painful disease. Take it at the start, therefore, with a careful daily cleansing. Make little swabs with wooden toothpicks and absorbent cotton and wipe out the ear with ether, going as far down into the pink convolutions as you safely can, but gently, for it is easy to do harm. Twice a week or so use warm olive oil. Let a drop fall in, massage the ear a bit, then dry it out with cotton, and dust in some boric acid powder. The wax may continue to reappear for some time, for the mites often burrow far into the ear.
Burn the removed wax and the swabs. This disease is contagious among cats, but not to human beings. There is no call for the fear timid folk have of catching it from our pets.
Otitis, or inflammation of the ear, may affect the external, or the internal, or the middle ear. It is oftenest the work of the symbiotic acari, the little demons that make the brown wax, but there are other causes in plenty. Mistaken owners who wash out a cat's ear with soap and water may bring it on, for water is bad for ears, and soap, like wax, can harden and press on the nerves and cause inflammation. Otitis can result from a blow on the head or from some injury that the cat, seeking relief from the itching, inflicts on itself by scratching.
As this disease advances the ear will look swollen and be hot to the touch, and the cat will shake its head and hold it to one side and act worried and frightened, perhaps run away and hide. Sometimes there is an offensive discharge, which closes the canal so that deafness follows, and the cat may have convulsions and die.
But no cat-owner, certainly none who knows by personal experience what otitis means, will let an animal suffer so. This ailment emphatically calls for a skillful veterinarian, and a kind one. If your surgeon employs instruments in the treatment, such as the speculum (a device for dilating and throwing light into the ear), make sure that he anesthetizes your pet. I know that this is too painful a business for a conscious creature to endure. And remember what Henry Gray, that humane English veterinary, said; "It is not wise to poke about in the ears too much."
Cysts and blood tumors on the ear flap occasionally happen for the torment of cats. They hurt badly, and if your pet is so unfortunate as to have one it will probably hide in corners, refuse food, and move its head distressfully. Examine the ear and you will find an oblong swelling along the inner surface of the flap. If the cyst comes from a bad bruise there may be blood in the watery contents.
Sometimes these cysts are absorbed, and the swelling disappears without treatment, but, aside from the pain the cat suffers in this slow process, it is sure to result in a permanent distortion and ugly wrinkling of the lobe. This is one of the diseases in which an operation is needed, and, to restore the ear to its former shape and keep it standing up proudly as a cat's ear should, the operation must be carefully done and the cat kept quiet till the wound heals.