Domestic cats have ‘eyes in the back of their heads’

If you are a native English speaker, you have probably heard the of saying “have eyes in the back of your head”. It applies to a person who is aware of what is going on behind them and around them generally. Some people are more aware of events happening around them than others because they are more observant and sensitive to people and the world in their vicinity.

'You've got eyes in the back of your head' applies to cats more than humans as they have swivelling ears
‘You’ve got eyes in the back of your head’ applies to cats more than humans as they have swivelling ears. Image: iPreferHappy on Flickr
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However, people are nowhere near as adept at this skill as domestic cats. And the reason is this: domestic cats can turn their ears so that they point behind them. That’s the first reason and secondly, they use their tails to touch and feel, like fingers, objects that are directly behind them and in the immediate vicinity. You have to add to this the fact that cats are very alert, more so than for humans.

The cat’s tail is an amazing piece of anatomy. It responds to the spoken word. If you talk to your cat and she is facing away from you her tail will respond almost as if in a conversation with you. And as it flicks gently around from left to right it brushes against your hand to feel you.

Cat stalking and tail wagging
Cat stalking and tail wagging. The open ground does not provide cover for the cat which leads to indecision as to whether they should advance or not. This can result in tail wagging. Photo: in public domain with arrows added.

Both the cat’s tail and her ears act as a pair of eyes allowing her to behave as if she has eyes in the back of her head. They have a much wider field of hearing:

RELATED: Cat’s Field of Hearing

Feline primary field of hearing
Feline primary field of hearing

Domestic cats are able to move their ears so fluidly because they have 32 muscles to control the ear flaps (pinnae in scientific language). We can’t do it as I discuss on another page which you can access by clicking this link.

Human vestigial ear flap movements
Human vestigial ear flap movements. Image: PoC.

RELATED: How many muscles in a cat’s tail and ears?

Cats also have a much wider field of vision than humans at about 200 degrees which means they have extraordinary peripheral vision.

Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human
Cat Field of Vision Compared to Human. Image: PoC.

It is as if the phrase “you have eyes in the back of your head” was made for the domestic cat. Although, of course, you will see exactly the same thing in the wild cat species.

Comparison of upper frequency hearing limit for cats and humans
Comparison of upper frequency hearing limit for cats and humans. Chart by PoC.

Domestic cats are able to hear sounds of a much higher frequency than humans. This is because during their evolution they developed hearing which allows them to detect small mammals such as mice. Mice emit high frequency sounds. Cats can detect them very accurately and pinpoint their prey through sound alone.

RELATED: What is the hearing range of a cat?

We should not underestimate the hearing of the domestic cat. It’s better than ours although their eyesight is less good for colour but better in low light conditions. Their world is much more one of sounds and smells compared to ours which is a world of sight and visual images primarily.

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