A cat’s excellent hearing is the ‘Yang’ that goes with their superior ‘Ying’ of night vision. Not only are their ears more sensitive they are mobile with a cat able to move their ears through 180 degrees to face them towards any detected sound. This enables the cat to pinpoint the position of its prey, in both direction and distance.
The mechanism of the cat’s ear responds to vibrations from about 30 kHz, or 30 cycles per second, the same lower limit as in humans.
Highly Sensitive Ears
Cat’s are able to hear sounds resonating at a far higher level than humans can detect at around 65 kHz compared with a human’s 20kHz. Cats live in a different sound world from us a world in which the high pitched squeaks of mice and other small creatures are part of everyday experience.
A mother cat can hear the plaintive cries of lost kittens that would be inaudible to you and me.
This excellent hearing in the higher registers explains why, as a general rule, cats respond more readily to women’s and children’s voices than to men. It also explains why cats sometimes sit up and pay attention to noises that their owners have not heard. The popular myths about ‘psychic’ cats which can detect disturbances long before they become evident to humans can be explained with the cat’s superior hearing. This perhaps accounts for the regularity with which cats turn up at the gate to meet their owners returning home by car. A particular car’s sound ‘signature’, as far as the cat is concerned, is probably high in the upper registers, beyond human discrimination.
Another feature of a cat’s hearing is its ability to locate the position of sounds very accurately. From a distance of about 1m, it can discriminate between two sources of sound only 8cm apart. The brain is able to detect the time delay in the arrival of the two separate sound signals. This is another hunting skill, enabling the cat to locate and track its prey.
Hearing in Scottish Fold Cats
Scottish Fold Cats are a breed of cat with a distinctive genetic variation of their ear shape. Their ear shape was the result of a genetic mutation that became fixed in descendants of the cat with the original mutation, and their unique appearance has become a favourite for many cat owners.
Whilst the sensitivity of Scottish Fold Cat’s hearing remains equally as good as that of any other cat breed, their inability to swivel their ears toward a sound to pinpoint position and distance must affect their ability to hunt. In the wild, a Scottish Fold cat would likely not do as well as a cat without this mutation. Of course, excellent pinpointing of prey is not required in a domestic cat, so they do just fine as pets!
The Quiet Life
Cats are not big on noisy environments. They are disturbed by loud noises, which is why clapping hands and saying ‘No! ‘loudly is such an effective ploy in training. A cat sharing a home with a dog will often retreat if the dog barks loudly. Not out of fear, out of disturbance. For the same reason, a cat will often walk away from noisy children. When the tribe brings their rowdy friend’s home, expect Mr Whiskas to disappear.
Hearing in the Older Cat
Deafness is an ailment to which some cat breeds are prone, especially in old age. White cats historically have suffered from it in greater than average numbers, especially blue-eyed whites to the extent that in odd-eyed cats the deafness is often on the same side as the blue eye. It can affect one or both ears and is incurable.
Though hearing is important to a cat deafness does not, in fact, seem to be a great disadvantage if it has been deaf from birth. Their other senses work seem to compensate Deafness does, however, affect the mothering skill of a queen who cannot hear the high-pitched cries for food or help of her young kittens so if no other reason, it’s best not to let deaf queens breed.
Deafness in old age comes on gradually and is usually associated with other symptoms of ageing. Persistent shaking of the head or scratching at the pinnae may be an indication of some ear infection or maybe the cat’s expression of puzzlement at its declining hearing. In some parts of Australia, ear mites are especially prevalent so if your cat is worrying at its ears, inspect them to rule this out as a cause.
There is nothing to be done about deafness in old age but the cat’s life can be made easier by making sure that it is not suddenly startled and by