Cat Communication: Ear Action

cat communication: ears say a lotEar actions are a big part of cat communication. Ears are a fascinating bit of advanced feline technology – a built-in super-sensitive audio system that operates like a huge radar array. The way cats move their “receptor dishes” can tell us a lot about what they’re thinking and feeling.

Cats have an extremely adept and sophisticated sense of hearing, far greater than that of humans and even more sensitive than dogs. The human audible frequency range is from about 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz and dogs hear the range from 20 hertz to 40 kilohertz, while cats can hear frequencies from about 30 hertz to 60 kilohertz. This high-frequency receptivity is important to cats’ ability to hunt – it enables them to hear the tiniest of noises made by the tiniest of prey, like mice. Cats dislike most loud noises but are really disturbed by loud, high-pitch noises such as sirens.

The reason cats’ ears are so marvelously mobile is that they’re controlled by an intricate system of more than twenty muscles. This setup allows cats to move each ear independently of the other, as well as swivel or flatten them and to hold them tilted forward, backward or sideways. Kind of makes one wonder why everyone thought that kid in third grade became a schoolyard celebrity cause he could wiggle his.

Though cats’ ears appear to be capable of almost infinite variations of position, here are some of the most common and what they mean:

Ears both facing forward:
this is the basic position and it generally means the cat is relaxed and happy. The cat radar system seems to be active almost all the time – even when a cat is napping her ears will twitch and swivel to track noises.

Ears straight back: this is an indication of fear or anxiety, and the flatter the ears and whiskers are held to the head, the more the cat is displaying fear, anxiety, and submission.

Ears flattened to the side:
not a good sign; this indicates a combination of anxiety and aggression. If this is combined with the whiskers rotated forward, watch out.

One ear flat and one up:
This is generally means the cat is feeling unsure about whether something is a threat or not. As the cat evaluates the situation he may switch which ear is flattened. Aside from looking extremely goofy, this serves as a warning to any other cats in the area that the wrong move just may draw a strong reaction.