All About Cats’ Ears

Cats' superhuman skills in hearing, balance and agility are thanks to the complex structure of cats ears. Also, some breeds have ears that are so distinct they can be used to identify the breed. Find out more ...

The Structure of Cats’ Ears

Cat ears have three parts: the inner ear, outer ear, and middle ear.

The outer ear, the triangular part of the ear you see on the top of the cat’s head, is called the pinna. Its function is simply to capture sound and funnel it down through the ear canal, to the ear drum. Because the ear canal is deeper in cats than in humans, they can be prone to infections, although to a lesser extent than dogs.

The eardrum is part of the middle ear, as well as two muscles and three small bones, the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear with the nose, allowing air to enter the middle ear.

The cat’s inner ear is highly developed and is the seat not only of hearing but also of balance. It is thanks to the fluid-filled semi-circular canals in the inner ear that cats have their balance and agility superpowers.

Apart from the complex internal structures of cats’ ears, there are also 32 muscles in each ear enabling them to be moved and rotated independently and to 180 degrees. This level of control is critical when it comes to hunting, helping cats pinpoint exactly where that mouse is hiding even if it is not in sight

secondary characteristics of cats ears

Secondary Characteristics of Cat’s Ears

Henry’s Pockets

Those funny little flaps of skin that sit on the inside of the outer edge of the ear are called Henry’s pockets. Dogs have them too. Science hasn’t come up with a surefire reason for these little pouches though theories include improved sound location, sound enhancement, flexibility, and communication. Fleas like to party in Henry’s pockets so don’t forget to take a peek in there when you are checking for parasites or mites.

Maine Coon ear tufts

Tufts/Lynx Tips

Some cat breeds, like the Maine Coon, have distinctly tufted ears. Sometimes called lynx tips, this is the hair that grows up from the point of the ear.

Norwegian Forest Cat - Ear Furnishing

Ear Furnishing

The floof that grows in the inner ear, is called ear furnishing. Those very fine hairs are another feature that aids in the detection of prey. Some breeds, like the Norwegian Forest Cat, take ear furnishings to a whole new level.

fighting cats

Cat’s Ear Communication

Anyone who has a spicy kitty can attest to the fact that cats’ ears are very expressive. When the ears on the cat that is cozily purring on your lap, start to lay flatter or point backward, and his tail starts to twitch, you know your cat has had enough attention for the time being. It’s the same when cats communicate with each other. Their ears are talking all the time.

Generally, ears laying flat to the head or flat and to the side are indicative of anxiety or heightened emotion. In a multicat household, step in to discourage rough play if either one seems to be feeling overly aggressive or anxious.

Ears flattened and facing out may indicate that your cat is feeling poorly. If you see this watch out for other signs of possible illness like lack of appetite, shedding, or isolating. 

One week old kitten

Kittens’ Ears

Kittens are born deaf and blind. Their ears are tucked close to their head and it’s only about day 5 that their ears begin to unfurl and the kittens can detect some sound. It is not until week 6 to 7 that their hearing will be fully developed.


Cat Breeds with Distinct Ears

From the huge bat ears of the Oriental Shorthair, to the backwards flick of the American Curl, some cat breeds have ears that are so distinct that they can be used as an identifying characteristic of the breed.

Scottish Fold

The Scottish Fold is one of the better know breeds with distinct ears. The fold is the result of a genetic mutation and not all Scottish Fold kittens will develop it. They will look like all other kittens until about three weeks when the ears of those with the gene will start to crumple.

American Curl

The owlish appearance of the American Curl is thanks to the backward curl in their ears. No other breed has this trait. American Curl kittens’ ears will start to fold after the first week.