How sensitive is a cats’ hearing?
Something that most cat owners know instinctively is that a cats’ hearing is more sensitive than ours. We only have to observe them in everyday life in our households to see those ears rotate like a bat’s ears. Sometimes this is in response to a distant event that we mere humans cannot sense in any way. During photography sessions with Melbourne’s cat owners, this comes up in discussion from time to time.
But what are Cats actually capable of hearing? Well, Scientists studying this subject, have discovered that felines have approximately 20 muscles in each ear. With each muscle being finely controlled, this explains an enviable ability to rotate, raise, lower, open and close each ear independently of each other. This is particularly suited to picking up high frequency sounds. To humans, this is known as ‘ultrasonic hearing’. This means that a cat with normal hearing, can detect sounds of between 35 hertz (low pitch) to 90,000 hertz (high pitch). In comparison, children and young teenagers can detect sounds in the range of a maximum of 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. Most adult humans are unable to hear even this relatively restricted audio range.
In common with cats in the wild, most cat breeds have large number of hairs in their ears to protect them from insects and dirt. These hairs have not however, been proven to aid in the sensitivity of sounds. The whole point of ultrasonic hearing is adapted for the purpose of detecting prey. This would otherwise be invisible due to vegetation or distance. Mice are an obvious example of prey that can be heard before it can be seen in long grass.
That surprising array of muscles, in their ears means that different sources of sounds can be constantly distinguished from one another. This is until the ‘prey’ can be isolated, and then confirmed through a detailed visual inspection.
Even in our households, it can be astounding when we see those little ears pointing down into the grass. When we wander up close and peer closely, we sometimes discover that they can hear a small insect like a small cricket wandering harmlessly below – all very impressive!
Although not yet fully proven – subjective evidence points to cats being uniquely able to detect very rapid and high frequency pulses that occur in the hours or minutes that precede an earth tremor.
Of course it isn’t all good news. At the lower end of the sound spectrum, the combination of ground vibrations and that lower range of audio sensitivity mean that felines will inevitably detect distant thunderstorms or faraway trucks. This can be many minutes before we can figure out what is ‘in the air’. We may notice a nervousness in their demeanour that can be hard to explain … until suddenly we suddenly wonder what the distant sound was!
Clearly, this extreme sensitivity diminishes with age – and an important clue to when hearing diminishes in a cat is when that distinctive ear positioning and ‘fine-tuning’ happens less often in their everyday environment. Recent veterinary studies indicate that the higher frequencies are the sounds that diminish the most during aging. That accidentally dropped shopping bag may sound like a dropping bomb to a younger cat. However – to a very mature feline; that sound may be more subdued, and (literally) less high-pitch.
For some examples of our recently photographed Felines, have a look below:
If you would like to read more on what cats can (and cannot) hear, you may want to look at this interesting You Tube video sums it up in an entertaining way.
Hearing – Cat Photography Melbourne