Have You Ever Wondered About The Sensitivity of Hearing in Cats?

Have you ever wondered how your cat hears you open the door to the cat food cupboard even when s/he seems to be sound asleep?

They say cats have a sixth sense – but in this case, it is probably another of your cat’s senses that is responsible for this almost magical behavior.

The sense of hearing in cats is absolutely incredible. They can hear high frequency sounds we cannot. While they can hear higher frequency sounds than we can, a cat’s hearing stops at 65 kHz (kilohertz) whereas ours stops at 20 kHz – that is, we can hear deeper, lower sounds (but not by much!).

They can also distinguish the tone or pitch of sounds better than we can. In addition, a cat’s ability to locate the source of a sound is highly advanced. From a yard away, a cat can distinguish between sounds from sources only 3 inches apart. All of these attributes makes it quite easy for a cat to distinguish the sound of you opening the door to the cat food cupboard from the sound of you opening the cupboard door next to it.

It is also an example of the fact that cats hear what they want to hear!

Deafness in Cats

Some cats, (e.g. some blue-eyed whites), are born deaf. Many other cats are thought to be ‘grumpy’ by owners who don’t realize that their cat can’t hear. Loss of hearing in cats can be congenital or related to age, illness or physical injury. Many cats lose their hearing gradually as they age (as do many of us). Sudden loss of hearing in cats is normally the result of illness or injury and may be temporary or permanent.

Where hearing loss is gradual, it may be a long time before you realize that your cat is deaf because the cat compensates for its lack of hearing. Where hearing loss is sudden, the cat may appear confused, irritable, over-attached to the owner, insecure or exhibit other ‘unusual’ behaviors in response to the sudden loss of this sense. Some deaf cats call out more often and more loudly (they cannot regulate their own volume) while others may become mute.

The level of hearing in cats varies. In most older cats, hearing loss is gradual and not apparent until the later stages since cats do not always respond to being called (it wouldn’t be a cat if it did!). A cat with unilateral deafness may turn its head more often to increase the chance of picking up sounds with its good ear. Poor hearing makes cats defensive – they strike out first and ask questions later. Click your finger nails close to each ear in turn (make sure that it can’t see your hands though) – does it respond? Is your cat easily startled if you approach it from behind and touch it?

Some deaf cats learn to respond to hand signals similar to those used in distance control of dogs. At close range, sharp handclaps might provide enough vibration in the air to get the cat’s attention. Flashing a torch/flashlight, shone in the direction of the cat, on and off can be used to call it in from the garden at dusk (this also works with hearing cats) especially if it the flashing light is followed by a tasty incentive.

Deaf cats cannot hear warning sounds such as car engines, lawnmowers or barking dogs. If the cat goes outdoors, make sure it is wearing a collar (in case it is startled by something and bolts) and write ‘I AM DEAF’ (no kidding) on the collar to help people who wonder why the cat fails to react to shouts, car horns, etc. A noisy bell on its collar will help you to locate its whereabouts when it is in motion. It is safest to confine a deaf cat to the safety of a fenced garden but, then, you can’t always control the actions of such a willful and independent animal.


If your cat should become deaf due to injury, disease or age, don’t become over-protective of it. Your cat will still want to do ‘cat’ things and, while it may miss its former sense, it will also adjust to its loss. However, a helping hand from you and some adjustments to their lifestyle and perhaps your own as well, will ensure a disabled cat has a healthy, happy and safe life.

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