Last week, I wrote about cats and their famous curiosity, and one of the reasons for a curious cat was that they had such good hearing that they might be investigating a noise we didn't even hear. So that got me thinking... just how good is a cat's hearing? What is the hearing range of a cat? Can cats hear better than dogs?
Let's start by looking at cats' ears. The first thing that you notice is that they are large, pointy and curved, almost like little upside ice cream cones cut in half the long way! This external ear is also called a pinna or pinnae if you're talking about both ears! Cathealth.com says these pinnae help to catch and amplify sound waves.
According to cats.com, a cat's ear also has 32 muscles that help them rotate them almost 180 degrees and move them independently of each other, so that each ear can move in a different direction. This helps pinpoint where sounds are coming from.
So, what is the range of hearing for a cat? Cathealth.com says the lower range for a cat and for you is about the same - 20 Hertz (Hz). It's the upper limit where there is a big difference. Humans can hear frequencies up to 20,000 Hz, but cats can hear up to 64,000 Hz! (In comparison, dogs can hear to about 45,000 Hz., so cat's do have a wider range of hearing than dogs!) Cats,com says this translates into a hearing range of 10.5 octaves for cats, compared to 9.3 in humans.
How far can a cat hear? Cats.com says more research is needed, but we know that cats can hear sounds 4 to 5 times further away than people do! They also say that from a distance of 3 feet, cats have such good hearing that they can distinguish sounds being made 3 inches away from each other. The example they give is if there were 2 mice 3 feet away from the cat and 3 inches away from each other, the cat could tell which mouse made which noise. This would be very useful when hunting for prey!
Of course, not all cats hear this well! Cats can be deaf, and it is particularly common for white cats with blue eyes to be deaf. Cats.com says white cats with blue eyes are 3 to 5 times more likely to be deaf than a white cat with 2 non-blue eyes. Deaf cats can still have a great life, but might need a little extra attention. Cathealth.com says deaf cats can still learn to respond to hand signals and vibrations, but keep an eye on them if they go outside to protect them from dangers they won't be able to hear coming!
If you are cat parent, I'm sure you've also experienced times when cats did not respond to a sound (like you calling their name), but then perked right up when they heard something like the can opener. So, my conclusion is that cats can hear well, but if they're feeling safe and happy, they might only listen for the sounds they want to hear!