10 Cool and Interesting Facts About Your Cat’s Ears
Cats' triangular-shaped ears clearly distinguish them from other species, but there’s a lot more to a cat’s pyramid-shaped ears than meets the eye! Keep reading to learn what makes your cat’s ears and sense of hearing extra special.
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1. Cats’ ears are similar to those of other mammals including the outer, middle, and inner ear.
The outer ear consists of the pinna (the outer triangular part we see on top of their heads) and the ear canal. The pinna captures sound waves and funnels them down the ear canal to the middle ear.
The middle ear contains the eardrum and tiny bones called ossicles which vibrate in response to sound waves, sending those vibrations to the inner ear which works to send electrical signals through the hearing nerve to the brain to be processed or interpreted.
In addition, the inner ear contains the vestibular system that helps cats balance and orient themselves. The inner ear shares the function of hearing and balance. As a result, inner ear infection can affect both hearing and vestibular function with symptoms such as a head tilt or turning the body toward the side of the ear infection.
2. Cats rule, dogs drool...
Don’t tell your cat, but like dogs, their pinnae can turn and move independently of each other, turning the ear toward the sound source to increase their hearing sensitivity by 15-20 %. Each cat’s ear contains 32 tiny muscles (that’s 14 more than dogs have) which rotate the cat’s pinnae to identify the precise direction a sound is coming from. This allows each ear to rotate up to 180 degrees to determine the source of even the tiniest squeak, rustle, or movement.
3. Cats, like dogs, have super-power hearing.
In fact, cats’ hearing is actually better - they can distinguish sounds at a much higher range than dogs and also detect low-pitched sounds similarly to dogs. In addition, they can detect the tiniest variances in sound, just one-tenth of a tone apart, allowing them to figure out their prey animal’s size, putting people with perfect pitch to shame.
Essentially, cats have some of the best hearing among domestic animals. This helps them to hear a wider range of sounds, giving them the ability to detect a wider range of prey species as well as the advantage of hearing and avoiding their own predators.
4. Cats have an incredible sense of balance, due to their specialized ears.
Deep inside a cat’s ears are three canals full of fluid and lined with tiny hairs. As the fluid moves over the tiny hairs, a signal is sent to the cat’s brain indicating which way the cat’s moving. Another part called the vestibule, sends information that indicates whether the cat is upright, upside down, lying on their side, etc. The canals and vestibule are essential to a cat’s “righting reflex,” which allows them to land on their feet (most of the time) when they fall.
5. Cats' ears convey non-verbal information or cues regarding their mood.
These messages let other cats, animals, and us know if they’re feeling happy, curious, relaxed, angry, irritated, or completely scared! When they’re aggravated they lower their ears and turn them sideways, or show their anger with their ears laid flat against their head which can also indicate that they’re terrified.
6. Kittens are born with their eyes and ears closed.
This helps to protect these undeveloped complex sensory organs from permanent injury due to premature exposure to light and sound. As they grow and develop, their ears and eyes will open when they’re about 14 days old. Kittens respond to sounds as soon as their ear canals open, and they will hear softer and softer sounds in the weeks following.
7. You may have heard that white cats are born deaf.
According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, 40% of cats with one blue eye are born deaf, 65-85% of white cats with both eyes blue are born deaf, and 17-22% of white cats with non-blue eyes are born deaf.
This happens due to a genetic mutation that causes blue eyes and white fur. It also causes malformation of the structures that make up the functioning ear, known as the cochlea, which is responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. Therefore, cats with one blue eye will often be deaf in the ear on the same side as the blue eye.
8. Cats’ ear canals have a self-cleaning ability and, lucky for us, don’t need our help to keep clean.
If you notice any abnormal discharge, excessive ear wax, redness, or swelling in your cat's ear(s), you should contact your vet. Cats are sensitive to many products, and even ear cleaning products that are safe for dogs should not be used on cats because they can have serious reactions. Only use products recommended by your vet to clean your cat's ears.
9. Not all cat ears look the same!
You may have seen cats with odd ear shapes such as the Scottish Fold and American Curl breeds. Scottish Fold cats have flopped-down ears, and American Curl cats have rolled-back ears. These gene mutations of the cartilage which holds a cat’s ears erect may look cute, but can also cause bone malformations and an increased possibility of developing arthritis, especially in Scottish Folds.
10. Ever noticed that your cat’s ear temperature changes, especially the right ear?
Your cat’s ear temperature can help you determine their stress level. Like us, cats respond to fear and stress with elevated adrenaline and other changes in the body that cause increased energy production. Part of the energy produced increases a cat’s body temperature. Scientists have discovered that the temperature of a cat’s right ear (not the left ear) is associated with the amount of certain hormones released in response to stress and anxiety and could help indicate psychological stress.
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