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A Silent Language: Your Guide to Reading Cat Ears

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Cats have smaller ears than dogs, and there’s less variation in size and shape among different breeds. As a result, their ears often seem less expressive than dogs’. We also tend to pay less attention to cats’ body language because we don’t spend as much time training them as we do dogs. But cats have similar body-language responses.

Perked up and slightly forward. This is the classic look of a happy cat: His ears are perked up and slightly forward, and his whiskers are relaxed. Cats who are confident and interested in what’s going on around them will also put their ears up. When your cat comes toward you with his ears up and forward, he’s giving you a greeting and is ready to hear what you have to say—or at least is prepared to get a little bit of attention.

Straight back. As with dogs, cats will move their ears back when they’re anticipating trouble. At the same time, they’ll move their whiskers forward to get a better sense of whatever it is that’s aggravating them. When your cat’s ears are in this position, it’s a sign that he’s really upset, and you’d best keep your hands out of the way.

Flat against the head. Unlike an angry cat, who will pull his ears straight back, cats who are frightened flatten their ears against the sides of their heads. They lay their whiskers down as well. No one’s sure why cats do this, since flattening the ears muffles their sense of hearing and would seem to make them more vulnerable.

Some experts theorize that cats flatten their ears in order to seem as small and unthreatening as possible. Cats who flatten their ears and crouch low to the ground seem to be saying, “Don’t worry about me; I’m not here.” Another theory is that by flattening their ears, cats are intentionally blocking sounds they find threatening, which allows them to hold perfectly still without panicking until the threat passes by. And, of course, clamping the ears against the head means that they are less likely to get chomped should a battle ensue.

Swiveling to the outside. Cats have an astonishingly well-developed sense of hearing and can locate and identify the slightest sound, such as a mouse in a wall across the room. Part of what enables them to pinpoint the source of a sound with such accuracy is their ability to turn and point their conical ears toward the sound. When you see your cat swiveling one or both ears to face outward, you’ll know that he is interested in something he hears.

You might be talking to your cat, and it looks like he’s really concentrating on what you’re saying. Then you’ll see the right pinna, or outer ear, swivel away in the other direction, and you’ll know he’s just tuned you out for something more interesting.

In conclusion, although cats have smaller and less varied ears compared to dogs, their ears still play an important role in expressing their emotions and communicating with us. By paying attention to their ear positions, we can gain insights into their mood and intentions. When a cat’s ears are perked up and slightly forward, it indicates a happy and engaged state. Conversely, ears pulled back and whiskers forward signal anticipation or agitation. Cats flatten their ears against their heads when they feel frightened or want to appear non-threatening. Swiveling ears demonstrate their remarkable hearing abilities and interest in specific sounds. Understanding and interpreting a cat’s ear language can help us better connect and communicate with our feline friends.

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