Dogs versus cats: it’s the age-old quandary. While neither species of animal is better than the other – contrary to what many would debate – they each hold unique qualities that set them apart. Dogs retain a superior sense of smell; cats can fall from great heights and walk away unscathed.
But which animal has the better auditory system? The answer may surprise you.
The feline sense of hearing is considerably more sensitive than dogs and humans (and many other mammals). A healthy cat’s hearing ability is a true biological marvel. According to an article published on Animal Planet’s website, a cat’s ears are “like a sophisticated satellite dish turning to pick up a signal.” The article goes on to explain that “the cat’s external ear flap, or pinna, rotates up to 180 degrees to locate and identify even the faintest of squeaks, peeps or rustling noises.”
In humans, the ear canal is extremely short and measures just 2.5 centimeters in length. However, both canines and felines possess a long ear canal that “makes almost a 90-degree bend as it travels to the deeper parts of the ear,” explains Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Although humans and cats have a similar range of hearing (on the fairly low-end of the scale) cats are capable of hearing much higher-pitched sounds of up to 1.6 octaves above the human range, and one octave above the range of a canine. Indeed, a healthy cat can even judge within three inches the location of a sound being made three feet away, which assists in the locating of prey. They can also “hear sounds at great distances – four or five times farther away than humans.”
A feline’s ears are an extreme asset but, despite their abilities, remain a very fragile piece of anatomy. The delicate nature of a cat’s ear canal makes it an ideal environment for one of the most common ear troubles in pets: otitis externa.
Otitis externa is the inflammation of the outer ear canal, and is one of the most common reasons why pets are taken to the veterinarian. In general, cats tend to have fewer ear problems than their canine counterparts, but otitis externa can affect either species at any age, and can be very painful to boot.
There are many causes of inflammation of the outer ear canal in pets, including an allergic skin disease, parasites, food allergies, autoimmune diseases and foreign objects in the ears. An ear canal with otitis externa can also become a breeding ground for bacterial or yeast infections – the damp, warm conditions of the ear canal also assist in making it the perfect environment for these microbes to thrive – and it’s quite common to find an animal with otitis externa has an accompanying ear infection.
Symptoms of an ear infection or inflammation may include scratching or rubbing of the ears, bad odor in the ears, shaking of the head, discharge from ears (pus, watery fluid), and red or swollen ear canals. If any of these symptoms are noticeable, it is advised that you contact your veterinarian before the problem worsens.