How well do cats hear?
Cats are hunters by nature. However, this ability doesn't come out of the blue or out of simple trial and error; a cat's body is anatomically adapted to hunt its prey in the most favorable conditions for them. In addition to sight and smell, one of the senses by which they are most guided is hearing. Their ears function in such a way that they can hear potential prey at a distance and stealthily prepare to attack. But how do they do it? How does the auditory sense work in cats? How well do cats hear? Let's discuss it further!
What sounds can cats hear?
As logic indicates, cats can hear thanks to their ears, the most visible part, and the internal auditory structure, which we clearly cannot see unless we look closely (if the cat allows us to examine it) or have specialized equipment like veterinarians do.
The external ear flaps are called the pinnae. Their cone shape and upright position are vital in capturing and amplifying the sound waves they detect from the outside. It is known that they can amplify sound waves 2 to 3 times for frequencies between 2000 and 6000 Hertz (Hz).
Unlike the limited human ear, cats’ ears are endowed with 30 sets of muscles that allow movements of up to 180 degrees. In this way, cat ears can guide them towards the sound source that caught their attention.
Have you ever noticed how cats move their ears if they hear a sound but not necessarily move their heads?
Why do cats hear so well?
Sound travels through the internal part of the ear in the form of waves that hit the eardrum and make it vibrate. Consequently, the ossicles of the inner ear move and push one end of the cochlea, a fluid-filled part that, in contact with sound, generates new waves that interact with hair cells. These are responsible for sending the signal to the brain that will process them and indicate responses.
As we have seen, the anatomy of cats’ ears makes them capable of even detecting the sources of sound. This is a process that depends on the difference between the time of arrival and the intensity with which it reaches each of their ears.
Cats can detect sound variations as slight as one-tenth of a pitch. This allows them to locate the source of the sound even a meter away in a short time, in addition to identifying the type of prey that may have produced it and its size.
How do cats use their ears for hunting?
After all this technicality, it might be more useful to use a more practical example to find out how well cats hear. Let's start with the fact that they don't chase anyone (unless it's a human with food, of course).
In general, cats perceive the sounds of other animals with their pointed ears when they are relatively close. It can be while they move under the leaves of the trees or when they are in a corner from which they are not visible.
Then they wait attentively but silently for the next movement that, even without seeing it, they can perceive thanks to their acute hearing. Thus, they find the opportune moment to jump on their prey, many times without fail.
Without a doubt, this particular sense supports their survival, especially when they live on the streets or in wilder environments. In addition, hearing allows mothers to monitor the condition of their kittens from a distance while they are in search of food.
How well do cats hear compared to other animals?
Cats are more sensitive to sounds, around 8,000 Hz. But put this way, it doesn't seem to tell us much about their ability. An excellent way to get an idea of the hearing ability of cats is by comparing it with that of people or other members of the animal kingdom. Interestingly, humans and cats share the same lower limit of hearing, which is around 20 Hz. At the same time, they differ significantly at the upper limit.
Cats can hear frequencies as high as 64,000 Hz, while humans can hear as little as 20,000 Hz. More simply, this allows them to hear sounds at great distances; sounds produced four to five times farther away than humans. Dogs, which are also very guided by what they hear, are sensitive to about 45,000 Hz, and mice up to 95,000 Hz.
Is it common for cats to lose their hearing?
Although they generally hear well, many cats can be deaf. With what has been said so far, it seems that we are facing one of the most necessary senses for cats' survival. Unfortunately, as in humans, many can also become deaf from different causes. Among them, infections, trauma, tumors, or simple aging.
There are other causes of deafness in cats, such as genetic predisposition. Also, there is a widespread belief that all white cats end up deaf, but science has revealed that this is not the case. In contrast, hearing loss is much more common in cats with blue eyes, a risk that decreases when they exhibit other colors.
Whatever the cause, a cat devoid of this sense loses one of its primary resources for survival. This is why it’s so important that pet owners and rescuers take them to the vet to determine how well they are hearing and take any necessary precautions.
Fortunately, a diagnosis of deafness does not necessarily mean the end of the world. Cats are independent even in harsh conditions, and with proper training, they can learn to respond to vibrations in their environment. But still, the best thing is to protect them at home because, without their sense of hearing, cats are even more exposed to the usual dangers.
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