The Hervey Foundation for Cats
Is There a Reason Cats Move Their Ears?

Is There a Reason Cats Move Their Ears?

It sure is funny how many different types of ears are out there. Humans have large round dish-like ears to capture sounds and feed them to the inner ocular organs. Owls have stationary internal ears and can move their heads around almost 360 degrees. The domesticated housecat, despite its more suburban lifestyle, has an incredible pair of ears that can pinpoint prey and anticipate danger!

Cats Have Stronger Hearing Than Dogs

A cat’s ears are like two large, movable satellite dishes designed to swivel and capture sound. To get a better idea of what their hearing might sound closer to, create two cups with your hands and place them just behind your ears. You will experience a slight amplification of the sounds around you!

While the media frequently portrays dogs as having incredible hearing, which they do, did you know cats are even better at it? Our feline friends can hear frequencies between 45 hertz to 64,000 hertz. They not only have the broadest range in detectable sounds, but they hear higher and lower frequencies than everything from rabbits to dogs, to people! For interest’s sake, dogs can hear between 67 hertz to 45,000 hertz, and humans can hear between 64 hertz and 23,000 hertz. 

Why Do Cats Move Their Ears? – As Predator/Prey

As predators, cats are designed to be efficient hunters while remaining elusive to other animals. Cats do not want to be heard by other predators or prey. Cats move quickly and quietly, and many thousands of years of evolution have perfected their ability to do so. It is woven deep into their DNA. Even a kitten knows how to stalk and pounce! 

Part of being an efficient predator in nature is not just being big or strong, but having incredible sensory perception. Being able to detect prey and hunt it down in the wild is hard work! Imagine trying to track down a meal, in the wild, without any tools or weapons. 

Cats come naturally equipped with the tools needed to survive. While we need technology to help us, cats can detect movement, track moving objects, follow complex scents, and hear everything from the soft patter of mouse feet to the high-pitched sounds even a dog would miss. They are truly nature’s most efficient hunters.

Using over 30 different muscles, cats can swivel their ears up to 180 degrees to better track sounds and their origins. Swivelling each ear is important to cats as it actually improves their hearing by an additional 15%-20% if they can pinpoint the origin of the noise. 

Why Do Cats Move Their Ears? – As a Form of Expression

Cats’ ears are an incredibly useful tool for staying safe and locating a meal, but they also are a great way to read your cat’s mood or feelings. Here are a few common ear movements you can use to better understand your cat.

  • Pointed forward: This is often a sign of contentment. A cat with its ears forward is usually feeling calm or content. 
  • Pointed up: This is often paired with a high-alert stance and facial expression. 
  • Flattened back: Watch out. A cat with flattened ears facing backwards is either scared or aggressive and should not be messed with. It is likely in fight or flight mode. 
  • Facing Sideways: This can be an indicator of one of two things. If accompanied by a defensive stance, it could lead to ears flattened back and potential fight or flight behaviour. If accompanied by quiet, somewhat uncharacteristic slow/minimal movement, your cat might be sick or in pain and trying to mask it. If this is the case, it is time for a trip to the vet!

The best advice we can give for reading your cat’s ears is to know them and pay attention to the full picture! Look at their behaviour, look in their eyes, and do your best to judge their mood! They rely on us to keep them safe and paying attention to them is the best way we can do that.

Final Thoughts

Cats move their ears for several reasons – all complex and impressive. One could say they can be grouped into two major categories. On one hand, they help them hunt and stay alive in the wild. On the other hand, they help them communicate with other animals and humans. We can all agree, cats are pretty incredible animals! 


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