Categories: ears

Why can cats hear better than humans?

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

By ‘better’ I presume that the question refers to being able to hear a wider range of frequences in which case the answer is as follows:

As cats do not produce ultrasonic calls (sounds above 20 kHz), their ability to detect sounds well into the ultrasonic range is probably related to hunting prey which create these sounds. Mice make vocalisations (sounds with their voice) up to 100 kHz. I can’t find an exact range for the sounds that they make but there is little doubt that the hearing of domestic cats is tuned to detect mouse vocalisations. I am dubious as to whether tigers have this ability to detect upper frequencies but perhaps they do as they’ll eat pretty well anything.

At the top end of the frequency range cats can hear up to 65-70 kHz (see definition at base of page). The 70kHz upper limit is well above that of humans at 20 kHz. Humans can hear in the frequency range of 64 Hz to 23kHz while cats hear frequencies at the lower end at 45 Hz.

Note 1: these figures vary somewhat depending on the source.

Note 2: I’ll presume that the hearing of humans evolved from a time when they were hunters attuned to detecting prey like cats. The frequency upper limit for humans indicates that our forebears did not hunt mice 🙂 .

Note 3: Servals are the great rodent hunters which accounts for their large ear flaps which act as super efficient directional amplifiers to pick up the sound of rodents in long grass.

Note 4: I speculated that Henry’s Pocket in the domestic cat’s ear flap enhances prey sound detection.

kHz – this is the abbreviation for kilohertz which is a unit of measurement of frequency, also known as cycles per second. One kiloHertz is 1,000 cycles per second.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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