Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Medical: What is that thing on my cat's ear?

Today’s Monday Medical is by special request:
Amy over at Sebastian the Sensitive Soul asked if we’d write about that funny little flap at the base of a cat’s ear. What is it, and why is it there?

It was so cool to have someone suggest a topic, and loads of fun to research!

So here goes:

As many of you know, when we first adopted Maxwell we quickly discovered he was completely deaf. So the feline ear and how it functions has been of special interest to us. A cat’s ear is quite unlike the ones we humans are stuck with.

You may have noticed, for instance, that theirs swivel whereas ours don’t. Not only do they have a good 180 degrees of movement, each ear can move independently. Thirty-two different muscles power each ear. Impressive, yes?

The most prominent part of a cat’s ear – the erect part, distinguished and elegantly arched – is called the pinna. These pinnae are designed to draw sounds into the ear canal. Now those are some pretty fancy ‘dish antennae’!

Faraday's pinnae
The range of a cat’s hearing is much broader than most animals, almost triple the range of humans and twice what dogs can hear.

A cat’s hearing is especially acute at higher frequencies, which may have evolved in this manner because so many species in their food chain make sounds in that range.

According to Dr. Steven Bailey, cats have 10,000 more auditory nerves than us humans. They can resolve the difference between two sounds with great clarity: from 6 feet away, they can distinguish between sounds that are only about 3 inches apart.

And from 60 feet away, they can differentiate between sounds that are only a foot apart!

(Think your hearing is this acute? Try this at home: stand 6 feet away from someone holding 2 clothespins. Make sure they hold them only 3 inches away from each other. Close your eyes and see if you can tell which hand is “snapping” the clothespin – the one on the left or the one on the right. Nah, not even close! )

Now what about that little flap at the outer base of each pinna? Well, it’s known as a cutaneous margin pouch.

As for its function? Scientists aren’t entirely certain, but they suspect it plays a role in differentiating between various sound-waves. As highly engineered as these feline listening devices are, we don’t doubt it!


Dr. Steven Bailey of Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine, Volume 6 -, Volume 6 John R. August


  1. Excellent post, we know nothing about the ears. Alfie certainly isn't deaf, he can hear a tin of tuna being opened 4 houses away LOL xxooxxx

    Mollie and Alfie

  2. That was really interesting and we did not know cats have better hearing than dogs. Have a marvellous Monday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. Mommy loves to play with our flaps--that's what SHE calls em'!

    We need our super hearing to detect the slightest rustle of the treat bag!

  4. Pawsome! you please stop looking at/inspecting my cutaneous margin pouch....I know it's pawsome but you're creepin' me out. Go away.

  5. SO cool!!! We've always heard that the little flap thing is where the magic happens. ; )

    Glogirly wants to try the clothespin thing but she has a question. You have CLOTHESPINS???
    ; )

  6. That's very interesting. That *flap* is something I had to deal with often when grooming dogs (before I decided to only groom cats). For dogs where shaving the ears are "necessary" such as the schnauzer, an error could mean slicing it right off!

  7. We kitties are just scientific wonders, aren't we!

  8. My human has always been fascinated by my little flaps! That was an interesting post!!

  9. Katie and Glogirly - YES! Our mom has TONS of them at her studio. They are very important pieces of equipment on a shoot. In fact, they even have a special name: they're called "C-47"s!

    (there's a whole story behind that, and mommy promises to blog about it in a new series she's working on for us!)

  10. A cat's ears are interesting....and I have always wondered about the shape and structure....thanks for the info. Just goes to show, we are SPECIAL aren't we????

    Kitty Hugs, Sammy

  11. Thanks for this incredibly informative post. I knew cats had exceptionally good herring but not to what extent. Janet

  12. Coolio! But then again...everything about cats is coolio!! :)

    the critters in the cottage xo

  13. We bet the little part is like a tweeter compared to a bass (microphones, not birds and fish).

    We have clothespins here too. TBT uses them as quick-clamps on small projects.

  14. I'm not sure if I love or am annoyed by the fact there is so much about a cat 'they' just don't know.. (like how they purr)

  15. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  16. Pawsome! Me has wondered what it was for - once in a while.

  17. How cool! We had wondered about what that was. Guess it isn't just an ear lobe after all!

  18. That was very interesting. Thanks so much for talking about it. I always wondered why their ears were split down there.

  19. Very interesting. I never really knew anything about cats ears. I just like petting them. Thanks for the info. :)
    Maybe one day scientists will figure it out.

  20. Inneresting. I thought it was to trap dirt. Only kidding.

  21. You learn something new every day! Silly typist misread the clothes peg instructions and thought the person trying to listen clicked the clothes pegs and she had the thought of, well you would know because your doing it. *growns* do you see what I have to put up with??!!

  22. c'est très intéressant, merci

  23. c'est très intéressant, merci

  24. This was fascinating. Hearing in general is of great interest to me because I am basically deaf in my right ear due to a medical problem in my inner ear. I have read that cats hearing is so much more acute than dogs say, and it is so interesting to watch as they "swivel their radar" to detect sounds we have no idea about.

  25. very interesting.... mom doesn't know what it is for either, but she does think it adds to the cute :)

  26. That is fascinating...And that clothespin test is really cool...Thanks for the lesson!


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