It’s no secret that both dogs and cats hear much better than us, and it isn’t hard to think of why. Dogs are descended from wolves that rely in part on their keen sense of hearing to track and hunt prey in a pack. Cats are descended from all manner of big cats that rely on their great hearing skills to track and hunt prey solo (or, in the case of lions, in pride). As much as we often think of cats and dogs fighting like – well, cats and dogs, the fact remains that these oft-considered-opposite animals are in fact more alike than not in this manner.
But of course that begs the question – who hears better, cats or dogs? The edge in this endless debate goes to the feline side this time.
Just how good is a cat’s hearing compared to ours? According to a study from LSU, cats have a hearing range in Hz of between 45 and 64,000. Compare that to around 64 to 23,000 in humans. To further those comparisons, consider your ear canal. As highly sensitive as our ears may be in their own way, the ear canal itself is short at just 2.5 cm. Cat ear canals tend to be a lot longer, and have a near 90-degree bend that funnels noise into the deep recesses of their ear.
Then there is the question of pitch. Cats can hear at a way higher pitch than humans, at as much as 1.6 octaves higher than us. A young, healthy cat can locate a sound being made three feet away to within three inches. This is another case where cats hear far better than us, as they are able to hear sounds at distances four or even five times greater than we can.
As with cats, dogs can hear at a pitch higher than us, and can thus hear octaves that we can’t – which is doubly amazing when you consider that puppies are born deaf. Once they start to hear, however, oh how their abilities grow, being able to detect sounds between 40 Hz and 40,000 Hz, in some cases even higher. In fact, that’s high enough to hear the high pulse frequency used in alarm clocks.
Dogs’ pinna (the section of the ear that sticks out from the scalp area) is curved in such a way as to catch and amplify sounds, just like cats. In keeping with that, their ear canal is L-shaped, with it being vertical in the jaw area before taking a horizontal, near 90-degree turn toward their eardrum. This highly compact design allows dogs to pick up sounds around them quite well, although in some cases it can also lead to problems if parasites, yeast infections, or other infestations crop up within their ear.
That’s oversimplifying things slightly, however. Dog ears, as any dog lover knows, actually come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. There are a plethora of names for these different ear types, including button ear, cocked ear, drop ear, and rose ear types.
Keep their ears healthy, however, and you can count on your dog’s sense of hearing to guide you. One thing dogs have that cats often lack is the kind of one-on-one training with us that allows them to be great hunters. Don’t get us wrong, cats are great companions, but there is a reason that house cats have never been hunters while human and dog hunting teams go way back. Dogs are able to pair their raw ear abilities with an innate hunting sense and idea of teamwork that allows them to hear and relay information to us in a way cats simply can’t or won’t.
Comparing Cats and Dogs
The term “dog whistle” has been popping up a lot in the news lately. On the one hand, it makes sense – dog whistles signal somewhat of a pitch that only some (in this case, dogs or political followers) can “hear.” On the other hand, you could argue it might make even more sense if it were a “cat whistle” because while those aren’t really a thing, perhaps they should be because cats can hear sounds almost a full octave higher than dogs.
However, cats can hear better than dogs, but both have highly developed senses of hearing and can hear at the ultrasound level. What’s more, both are able to move their ears, which in turn can help them pick up noises all around them. Think of it like cats and dogs having little radar dishes with which they can rotate to capture signals. Between this and the funneled construction of cats’ and dogs’ ears, they can better trap soundwaves and ensure that they reach the audio-sensing parts of their ears.
You may not think of your ears as a very muscular part of your body, but perhaps you would if you were a cat or a dog. Depending on the breed in question, dogs can have 18 or even more muscles tasked with controlling the movement of their ears. Cats come on top here too, however, with around 33 muscles. Cats can also move their ears independently, which gives them even greater flexibility and ability in hearing noises all around them.
Another similarity between cats and dogs is that, because they can move their ears, they also have a tendency to use them to express their moods. If a cat or dog’s ears are perked up, that means that they’re putting all of those muscles and hearing abilities to work – and so they are probably on high alert. If the ears are more relaxed, there’s a good chance they are, too. On the other hand, ears that are overly droopy can sometimes be a sign of apathy or unhappiness.
While cats may have the edge on dogs when it comes to raw hearing abilities, dogs are able to translate theirs into unique skills of their own. Both can hear far better than we can, which says a lot about just how amazing their hearing abilities are.