Your cat has very sensitive ears, capable of hearing about two more octaves higher than humans do. This sensitivity developed so she can detect the presence of mice, birds, and other potential threats. A cat’s ears are also one part of the body that helps them to regulate temperature. When a cat’s ears are very hot to the touch, this can, but not always, indicate a fever.
A cat’s hearing is so refined that it can judge to a fraction of a second the difference in reception of a noise from one ear to the other, to focus on the exact location of the source. The outer ear can rotate a full 180 degrees to focus on a sound, thanks to ten separate muscles. The same fine-tuning enables your pet, say, to notice while catnapping upstairs the moment you begin to use the can opener downstairs in the kitchen, or to tell from the sound of your car door–not any others’ along the street-that you are about to enter your home.
The positioning of a cat’s outer ear, called the pinna, says a lot about what a cat is thinking. You can tune in to these ear signals and learn whether your cat is angry, happy, or ready to play defense. Here are a few:
Flattened backward-facing ears indicate an angry cat. The more aggressive the cat, the flatter the ears. This gesture heightens your cat’s ability to hear.
Ears flattened sideways is the protective gesture of a cat that is on the defensive or submissive. Ear fully flattened toward the sides indicates a frightened cat.
Erect, alert ears that are cupped forward indicate a happy cat.
One ear forward and one back indicates having mixed feelings or conflicting feelings.
A radar like swivel re-positioning can be visible if your cat is trying to identify a new situation. A cat who is feeling confused or uncomfortable may lower her ears to stand out more to the side, looking a bit like the Star Wars character Yoda.
Sometimes a cat who has used a paw to wash her ears will forget to flip an inverted ear back into position.