This world is a dog versus cat world. At least that’s how many pet parents think. Because of the kinds of attachments we form with our beloved domestic pets, it’s easy to forget that animals live in a totally different world than we do. They perceive the world differently, and they are all born with specific biological features that allow them to do so. When it comes to hearing, it might be natural to assume that dogs hear better than cats, but that in fact is a wrong assumption in many ways. Felines hear better than canines, and it all comes down to biology.
Cats hear better
There’s no denying that dogs’ hearing abilities are great—cats just happen to better in this respect. Cats are far more sensitive to hearing a wider range of sounds than dogs. In the wild, cats have evolved ultra-sensitive ears in order to survive. They use their ears to locate prey and to pinpoint and escape predators as well. As for domestic cats, their powerful hearing help them with daily interactions and general living. It also helps them care for their kittens and find them when they’ve lost their way. How powerful is cat hearing actually? A cat can pinpoint the origin and location of a sound to just within a few inches up to 3 miles away. The craziest thing is they can do that in a matter of six one-hundredths of a second.
Cat ear biology
Felines can thank mother nature for such an ability. Cat ear biology explains much of how they can hear the way they do. Cat ears have often been compared to satellites. They can turn their external ear flaps up to 180 degrees in order to pick up and identify sounds. In fact, cats can move each of their ears independently, allowing for a wider range of sound pickup. To control ear movements, cats use all the 33 ear muscles they have. Having more ear muscles (dogs have 18 ear muscles to compare) simply mean that feline ear anatomy is far more developed compared to other mammals. The level of sound identification cats are capable of is even more impressive, as cats can hear the slightest and faintest of sounds. According to this article, cats are able to “funnel” sounds into their ears because of the way they’re shaped. This is another ear feature that helps cats pinpoint sounds and their locations.
While we’re comparing dog hearing to cat hearing here, it’s only fair to say that dog hearing is better than cats’ in one respect. When it comes to hearing sounds in the lower frequencies, cats’ detection isn’t as great as dogs’. However, the opposite is true in any other sound registers, especially in high sound frequencies. While dogs can hear the highest pitch whistles from their humans, cats can hear even higher pitch sounds. In addition, they are also able to detect variances in sounds—even the slightest ones—to the point of a one-tenth of a tone difference. In fact, cat hearing is even better than humans and many other mammals. Cats can hear sounds up to five times farther than humans can. So really, even if you believe that you can sneak around your pet cat, you really can’t. They likely hear everything you but simply choose not to interact or engage with you as much as you’d prefer. Most cats tend to spend a lot of time in isolation, but remember that your cat can hear you from any part of your house.
The developed ear anatomy of cats has more purpose than just greater hearing. We all know that cats have quite the sense of balance, and we all know that there’s a part in our ear that help us humans with that too. That part of the ear organ is called the vestibular apparatus, and it is tasked with helping a cat stay balanced. It is also the reason why cats always land squarely on their feet. You might have heard of that expression before. The vestibular apparatus in cat ears are remarkable. There are millions of highly sensitive hairs inside the organ’s chambers and canals. These are also filled with fluid and crystals. When cats move and especially when the movement is sudden, the hairs in the vestibular apparatus detect the fluid and crystal movement inside, sending signals to the brain regarding the cat’s current body positioning. If a cat is off balance and about to fall, the vestibular apparatus will trigger a reflex that helps cat reorient their bodies midair, helping it land on its feet.
As highly developed as cat ears are, they still are susceptible to ear problems. Unfortunately, hearing prowess doesn’t protect cats from diseases and inflammations that affect their hearing. Cats can experience deafness too, which can be cause by several reasons. It could be caused by sickness, trauma in the inner or outer ear, or even old age. As a cat gets older, the eardrum thickens. This affects its hearing ability in detecting higher frequencies. This is particularly dangerous for wild cats, as it prevents them from detecting predators and it affects their hunting skills. It may not be as dangerous for domestic cats, but it can still affect them in some way. Deafness in domestic cats have evolved to be a hereditary trait, so not all cats will develop it. Inflammation of the ear canal can also be caused by allergies, skin disease, autoimmune diseases, parasites, and the like. If you find your cat scratching or rubbing its ears too much, it might be time to take it to the vet for an ear checkup. Other signs for cat ear troubles include bad odors, fluid discharges, and even an unusual shaking of the head. Keep an eye out for these actions to help your cat prevent any hearing problems in the future.