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How Far Can Cats Hear?

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By Nicole Cosgrove

cat ears

Cats have an exceptional sense of hearing. It’s better than that of humans and dogs! While cat ears are small and delicate, their anatomy is complicated. Since cats hear so well, they can be sensitive to certain sounds. They may also not hear things the same way that humans do.

Cats have such an evolved and precise sense of hearing to help them avoid predators and locate prey. In addition to hearing, cats use their ears to help them stay balanced. Cats can hear about 4-5 times farther away than humans can.

Let’s look more at how cats hear and their range of hearing.

Hearing Range of Cats

Cats have a broad range of hearing and can detect high- and low-frequency sounds. Frequency, sometimes called pitch, is the number of times per second that a sound wave repeats itself. High-frequency sounds produce more repetitions and low-frequency sounds produce fewer repetitions. These units of frequency are known as hertz (Hz).

Humans with normal hearing can hear between 64 Hz and 26,000 Hz. Cats can hear between 48 Hz and 85,000 Hz, one of the broadest hearing ranges of all mammals. While humans and cats are close in range on the low end, cats can hear 1.6 octaves above the high range of human hearing.

While no exact maximum distance has been determined, based on this evidence, we can conclude that cats can hear 4–5 times farther away than humans.

cat with ear wax
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

How Do Cats Hear?

The triangular-shaped outer ear is called the pinna, or pinnae in the plural form. This captures sound waves and pushes them down the ear canal.

The eardrum is in the middle ear, along with small bones called ossicles. In response to the funneled sound waves, these ossicles vibrate. The vibrations move to the inner ear, which then sends electrical signals to the brain to be identified.

The inner ear is also responsible for the cat’s balance. The inner ear contains the vestibular system that enables cats to orient themselves. This means an ear infection can cause cats to become off-balance and may also affect their hearing.

A cat’s pinnae can move independently of one another. When cats hear sounds, they can rotate their pinnae toward the source of the sound and increase their hearing by up to 20%. Each ear can rotate up to 180 degrees to pinpoint even the quietest sound.

Using Hearing for Hunting

Cats rely on their superpower hearing to help them hunt and survive in the wild. Even if cats can’t see the prey moving, they will be able to hear it. Their acute hearing enables them to predict movements and know precisely when to successfully pounce on and capture their target.

Cats can locate a sound from up to 3 feet away and pinpoint the location of the sound within 3 inches. It’s no wonder that cats are excellent hunters!

close up of a cat's left ear
Image Credit: gwendoline63, Pixabay

Using Hearing for Protection

Cats stay safe and avoid predators because they can hear the slightest movements that alert them to danger. This is crucial to their survival in the wild. It’s also why cats have evolved to have such a sensitive sense of hearing.

If kittens are in distress, mother cats can hear their high-pitched kitten cries. This also helps kittens stay safe by alerting the mother that something is wrong.

Protecting Your Cat’s Ears

It’s best to be cognizant of your cat’s hearing abilities and know that even though you may like your music and television played at loud volumes, it may stress out your cat.

If you notice your cat reacting negatively to the sounds in your home, pay attention to these signs and lower the volume. Loud noises, especially when your cat doesn’t know where they are coming from, can scare them. Cats don’t hear music or television the same way that humans do. Recognize that it may be too much for your cat.

While cats don’t need much help keeping their ears clean, you should check them periodically for signs of infection. Ear infections can be painful and impact your cat’s ability to hear and stay balanced.

Signs of infection include:
  • Red or inflamed ear tissue
  • Cats shaking their heads frequently
  • Cats scratching at their ears
  • Reacting in pain to their ears being touched
  • A foul odor in the ears
  • Yellow or black discharge

Fortunately, ear infections are usually easy to diagnose and treat. If you notice these signs, have your cat examined by a veterinarian. Careful diagnosis will be necessary to determine the exact bacteria present and which course of action to take to treat it.

Serrad Petit Cat Close Up
Image Credit: NaviRamyle, Pixabay

Deafness in Cats

Cats can lose their hearing as they get older. In some cases, cats are born deaf due to a genetic defect, known as congenital deafness. Deaf cats can still live happy, healthy lives. They are just more visually aware of their surroundings. Deaf cats should never be allowed outdoors unsupervised because they cannot hear traffic or other dangers.

Life with deaf cats can be just as rewarding as with hearing cats, but they require a little more communication and protection. Deaf cats can be taught hand signals so they will know when you’re communicating with them.

A deaf cat will look to hearing cats for cues about their environment. If you welcome a deaf cat into your home with other cats, they can form strong bonds, playing and interacting with each other.

Final Thoughts

Cats have a sense of hearing that surpasses both dogs and humans. This makes them excellent hunters. They can pinpoint the location of a sound before they see where it’s coming from. They can hear sounds that are 4–5 times farther away than humans can!

Since cats have such heightened hearing, loud noises can be overwhelming for them. If your cat is showing signs of being stressed from noise, reduce the volume if you can, or put your cat in a quiet area of the house where they can relax.

Protecting your cat’s ears will help them stay healthy for years to come.

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Featured Image Credit: TRAPHITHO, Pixabay

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