Cat’s Field of Hearing

Because the domestic cat has 32 ear muscles compared to our measly six, (s)he can move the outer parts of each ear (the ear flap or pinna) through about 180 degrees. In addition each ear can be moved independently of the other. The cat can therefore hear sounds all around his body without moving his head. We frequently see this. It almost seems as if the cat is lazy when he listens to sounds behind him by swiveling the ears only. The head is static facing in the opposite direction.

Feline primary field of hearing
Feline primary field of hearing
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This radar-like ability of the cat’s ears allows him to locate prey through sound – sounds we can’t hear sometimes from, for example, a squeaking mouse – very accurately. It is said that from a meter away, a domestic cat can tell the difference between two different sounds that are a mere three centimeters apart and pinpoint that location extremely accurately.

Serval with ears pointed backwards
Serval with ears pointed backwards. Photo by STEHOUWER AND RECIO on Flickr

The best-known cat (non-domestic) for sound detection is probably the cat with the biggest ears unsurprisingly – the serval. This long-legged cat lives a lot of the time in tall grass. The cat can’t always see rodents, a common prey item for this species, but the serval can hear it. Once precisely located, the serval jumps up and pounces, stunning the rodent with its forepaws. This pouncing-stunning hunting behavior can be seen in the domestic cat too.

Kittens do it a lot in play. It is very reminiscent of the serval.

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