Cat Hearing and Their Amazing Listening Skills
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla
Dr. Joyce Ashamalla is the managing partner at Hinsdale Animal Hospital with Kremer Veterinary Service, as well as a partner at CARE Animal Emergency Hospital. She received her BS in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois- Champaign Urbana, where she also completed her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine in 2007. She is AO certified, USDA-APHIS accredited, and is a member of the CVMA, ISVMA, AVMA.
Cat lovers can spend hours watching their cat’s ears. They function like little satellite dishes, as the pinna (external ear) rotate 180 degrees to detect noises, many times moving independently. It’s amazing to watch a cat when they identify a strange noise that us humans cannot hear. Their body stiffens as they sit at attention, pivoting their ears to determine what the noise was and if it is a threat. If you are astonished by your cat’s listening skills, read on to learn more about a cat’s hearing range and how deaf cats adapt.
Sounds Only Cats Can Hear
Cats use their amazing sense of hearing for hunting prey. The high pitched sounds that mice and birds emit allow cats to pinpoint the location of their prey from long distances. Cat’s hearing is very accurate from 3 feet away, but is truly amazing at long distances, in fact, up to 5 times better than humans. A cat freezes or stands still when they hear a noise because they can identify the location of the sound better than they can while they are moving.
If you have noticed your cat hides when she hears loud noises like music, thunder or fireworks, it’s because loud sounds may be too intense for your cat. When a cat hears a loud noise, the muscles in their ears contract to reduce the amount of noise allowed in and to protect the inner ear. These intense sounds can cause noise trauma and lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss for a cat. High pitched noises, like the whistle of a fluorescent light or a tea kettle, can also be too loud and cause stress for your cat. If you notice any noises agitate your cat, try to eliminate them, and make sure your cat has a safe place to hide and escape from the loud noises that bother her.
Cat Hearing Range
When discussing hearing range of pets, we often thing of dogs and the high pitched whistles they can detect. Cat hearing is similar to dogs, as they can also hear high pitched sounds, including dog whistles. Cats actually have the ability to hear higher frequencies than dogs and they can detect differences in sounds, which assists them when they are hunting or when mother cats are looking for their kittens. Cats can hear frequencies up to 64,000 Hz, while dogs can hear frequencies of 45,000 Hz, and humans can hear up to 20,000 Hz.
How A Deaf Cat Adapts
Most deafness or hearing loss in cats is age related. Although, deafness can be common in white cats, with about forty percent of those cats being deaf in both ears. Many white cats with blue eyes are deaf because the Organ of Corti (receptor organ that hears in the cochlea) and the spiral ganglion (group of nerve cells) degenerate. If you adopt a cat that is deaf or if your cat suffers from hearing loss as she ages, there is no need to worry about how she will readjust to her surroundings. Deaf cats will rely on their other senses, like reading vibrations, to inform them about the world.
Cat hearing is powerful as well as delicate. It’s one of their most advanced senses and is very important to their well-being, from the pinna that rotate to follow sounds, to their ability to hear extremely high frequencies. A cat’s ear also does more than help them hear, as their inner ear plays a role with their sense of balance. They have millions of tiny hairs in the vestibular apparatus of their inner ear that informs their brains of their body position and helps them balance. Read more about a cat’s sense balance and their ability to land on their feet here.
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