Sure, your kitty’s ears are cute, perhaps pink on the inside with a little fuzz at the tip. But a cat’s ear is also a remarkable piece of engineering, highly adapted to allow her to hear and pinpoint prey. Loud noises can adversely affect her, both physically and psychologically.
Anatomy of a Cat's Ear
Cats’ ears, like those of most mammals, are made up of an inner, middle and outer section. Feline ears not only detect sound, but the inner ear houses the vestibular system, which aids in their amazing balance. The external ear can rotate up to 180 degrees—the ears can move independently of each other and can rotate while the cat’s body is moving in another direction. This allows the cat to pinpoint the slightest rustling or peep of potential prey. Cats hear much higher frequencies than humans and can also hear sounds at great distances—four or five times farther away than humans.
Reaction to Loud Noises
Kitty’s heightened sense of hearing is useful for hunting and for hearing the mews of its young, but not so much for loud noises. Celebrations with fireworks and even loud claps of thunder can distress her. Your cat might be fearful of storms and seek out a secure hiding spot, either running to it as quickly as she can or moving in a cautious low crawl. This is not a time to pick her up and comfort her—those claws might reflexively come out—but make sure her safe place is available.
When a cat’s ear detects loud noises, tiny muscles in the middle ear contract to reduce sound transmission and protect the inner ear. Loud fireworks or gunfire occur too quickly for the reflex to provide protection. Repeated exposure can result in noise trauma, producing temporary or in some cases even permanent hearing loss. While this kind of damage is more common in hunting dogs than in cats, close proximity to fireworks or continuous exposure to loud music can damage Kitty’s ears. Thunder is not likely to result in damage, but can produce fearful reactions.
If you’re expecting to hear fireworks or a thunderstorm is coming, make sure your cat has access to her safe hiding place. Providing the room with white noise in the form of a low-volume television show can further reduce her stress. Commercially available pheromone sprays and plug-ins might also be useful. And don’t play your music so loud!
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.