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5 Ear Signals Every Cat Owner Should Know

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Your cat has 32 muscles in each of her ears. That’s more than five times the amount of muscles you have in your own! All of those muscles give your cat’s ears an amazing range of motion, including the ability to swivel up to 180 degrees. That incredible range of motion is part of the reason you cat has such a strong sense of hearing.

In addition to helping her hear the slightest shuffle from prey or a potential predator, the range of motion also allows her ears to be very expressive, and paying attention to the position of her ears can give you clues about her mood.

Once you know what to look for, you’ll see that her ears give you a lot of information. They’ll tell you whether she’s angry, content, feeling playful, or even whether or not she wants to be picked up.

Being able to understand the signals will ensure that her emotional needs are being met and will strengthen the bond you have with each other. Here’s what to look for.

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Image: Sarah Hopewell : Flickr

1. If your cat is RELAXED…
Her ears will face forward. They may be also slightly tilted to the back or swiveled slightly to to the side. You’ll notice your cat’s ears are in this position when she’s content to be lounging in your lap.

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Image: A.Davey : Flickr

2. If your cat is INTERESTED or CURIOUS…
Her ears will be erect and usually facing forward. If she’s curious or interested in something that she’s trying to gather more information about, you may see her ears swiveling from side to side to hone in on the source and location. You’ll see this position if your cat is watching birds flutter around outside the window.

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Image: steve lyon : Flickr

3. If your cat is SCARED, ANXIOUS, or NERVOUS…
Her ears will be turned back and lay down flat against her head. You can gauge how scared or anxious your cat is by how flat her ears are (more flat = more scared). You may see this position if your cat is being harassed by a neighborhood cat outside the window or if a submissive cat is being bullied by a more dominant cat in a multi-cat home.

Angry Cat

Image: Christopher Marin: Flickr

4. If your cat is feeling ANGRY or AGGRESSIVE…
Her ears will be flat against her head, but turned to the side instead of to the back. This is because when a cat is angry or aggressive she’ll be both alert (with ears forward) and scared (with ears flattened).

It’s important to respect the power a cat has if she’s displaying this ear position and DO NOT attempt to pet her or pick her up. Disregarding this very clear signal can result in serious injury to one or both of you. If possible, remove the trigger and leave her alone to calm down.

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Image: Chris Erwin : Flickr

5. If your cat is feeling CONFUSED…
Sometimes a cat doesn’t quite know how she’s feeling and won’t be displaying clear signals. Her ears may be perked up and facing forward, then momentarily lay flat against her head before perking up again. If you keep watching, you’ll likely find that her ears will quickly take a more clear position once she has taken in all of the information about her situation or environment.

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