Can Cats be Mute?

Cats in the wild rarely vocalize to one another in a casual way.  Yes, they will hiss and howl if fighting or mating, but otherwise, they find physical communications much more effective.  The exceptions are the meows passed between mothers and kittens.  Once humans enter the mix, cats often become very verbal.  Why?  Because it gets them what they want from us.  But what if your feline friend never "talks" to you?  Laura M. writes:

I am taking care of two feral cats (LEA & MOUSEY) for a year now in my back yard. I trapped them, had them spayed, tested for FELV and vaccinated and I released them as I agreed to do. Before releasing I spent a few hours loving on them and feeding them. So they became very friendly to me since I alone care for them and am able to handle them. I have never seen Lea open her mouth except to eat, drink or pant during hot weather. Meaning, I have never heard any sound from her. Not even when she was a kitten with the mother. I accidentally stepped on her once and when I looked down she was doing everything she could to pull her little paw out from my foot, but never screamed. She does not scream at other cats even though hunched up at them. When she purrs I can feel it if I touch her neck but not hear it. She seems to hear very well. Is it possible she was born mute? I have a fear in my mind that if she gets hurt or trapped in a hole or something she wouldn’t be able to cry or meow so she can be found and helped.

Laura, thank you for taking the time to tend to these little ones.  They'd certainly make good pets if you decided to bring them inside full time.  You might be surprised by how well they'd adapt to life indoors. 

The lack of vocalizations from Lea is unusual.  We've never seen a cat who is truly mute but that doesn't mean that it doesn't happen from time to time.  Most cats in the wild learn early on in life that meows just get you unwanted attention from predators, so it's best to be silent.  They communicate instead through body language and eye contact.  We've seen cats carry on conversations with one another without making a single sound!

Cats are so sensitive to this type of nonverbal communication that it's possible for them to appear to hear you even if they're deaf.  The only way to be 100% sure that Lea can hear is to take her to a veterinarian and have her checked.  There are also tests you can do at home, like jingling your keys behind her back, but it can be difficult to tell if Lea is reacting to some subtle giveaway instead of the sound itself.  Deaf cats are usually VERY perceptive.

Cats can't actually hear at birth.  Newborn kittens are born with their eyes and ears closed, so it can be anywhere from a week to four weeks before they can actually hear.  It can be as much as five or six weeks before their brains develop to the point where they actually react to the sounds they hear.

Laura, whatever the reason for Lea's lack of voice, it's clear that she's happy and healthy with you looking after her.  Your best option for making sure she's safe is to move her indoors.  We wish you both all the best!