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Why Do Cats Put Their Ears Back? 3 Reasons for This Behavior

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By Nicole Cosgrove

grey cat licking its paw

Cats are extremely expressive little creatures. They not only communicate through mews and hisses, but they also talk through body language. One of the easiest ways to determine your kitty’s mood is to watch their ears.

Felines have over 30 muscles in their ears alone, enabling them to have a huge range of motion. In fact, some cat breeds can even swivel their ears up to 180 degrees – wow!

Not only do their ears help them listen for prey and predators, but cats “talk” through their ear movements. If your cat’s ears are flat against their head, they’re most likely trying to tell you something.

Here are three reasons why your cat is putting their ears back.

The 3 Main Reasons Cats Put Their Ears Back

1. Grumpy Kitty

One of the first telltale signs of an aggravated cat is pinned ears. Most cats will put their ears back when they’re anxious or annoyed. If the irritating behavior persists, your cat will hiss or even scratch at you or another pet. If your cat’s ears are pinned, give them some breathing space.

Scottish fold cat very angry and aggressive
Image Credit: Anatoliy Cherkas, Shutterstock

2. Cat Fight

If your cat is ready to attack, they will lay their ears against their head. This protects this sensitive body part from teeth and claws. If your cat is becoming aggressive toward another animal, mitigate the problem by removing the other pet from the room. Don’t try to touch your cat. You might end up being bitten or scratched.

3. Scaredy Cat

 A nervous or frightened feline put their ears in “airplane mode” when they’re about to take flight. If your cat is in a new environment, being introduced to a new animal, or just sees something frightening, they’ll pin their ears and scamper off.

Scared cat'
Image Credit: SakSa, Shutterstock

Cat Talk: Other Ear Communications

Now that you know what pinned ears mean on your cat, here are some other ear positions to be aware of:
  • Ears forward: A cat with its ears forward of feeling content, playful, and relaxed.
  • Ears perked: When your feline’s ears are perked forward, something definitely has their attention. If your cat hears a strange noise, their ears will immediately perk up.
  • Sideways and low ears: If your cat’s ears are lopping in opposite directions, they might be annoyed or scared. This is a sign that your pet is uncomfortable and needs space. They’ll move their ears up when they’re feeling calmer and more confident.
  • Unmoving: If your pet’s ears are constantly horizontal or don’t move, something’s up. They might have ear mites or an infection. Contact your vet right away.

Final Thoughts

Your cat will tell you what they’re thinking or feeling through their body language, including the ears. As a responsible pet owner, it’s important to pay close attention to your cat’s ears and know when they’re feeling anxious, angry, upset, or sick. If you think your cat is suffering from an illness or an injury, book an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.

Perky or upright ears mean your cat is attentive, healthy, and happy. Make sure they stay that way.

Featured Image Credit: michal dziekonski, Unsplash

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