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Understanding Your Cat’s Body Language: The Ears

March 2, 2013

A cat’s ears are rather remarkable: More than two dozen muscles are dedicated to moving the ears; they can move up and down or flatten sideways or backward; they can swivel 180 degrees; they can even move independently.

Photo courtesy Schmonsi

Plus, check out the top of your cat’s ears when you have a moment – if your cat has ear tufts, extra long hairs on the tips of his ears, even those serve a purpose. In the wild, ear tufts help pick up sound vibrations. How cool is that? Their ears were certainly created to be as mini radar dishes that pick up sounds and vibrations.

Consequently, it shouldn’t be a shock that our cats’ super mobile ears are also one major way that they communicate to one another and to us.

So what are they telling us?

I’m Relaxed: When your cat is relaxed and content, his ears will face forward and slightly tilted back/to the side.

No matter how relaxed your cat is, his ears never turn off. Watch your cat the next time he’s getting drowsy. Odds are his ears will remain alert, if not prick up in attention, and will swivel to track noises.

I’m Alert and Interested:  An alert cat’s ears will stand straight up and forward. Watch for these ears the next time you walk in the door, or if your cat is looking out the window at a bird.

I’m Nervous, Anxious, or Fearful: Anxious or fearful cats will turn their ears back and flatten them down. The more anxious or fearful the cat is, the flatter the ears will become, until they entirely backward and flat to the skull. A nervous cat’s ears may twitch. If the twitching is common, you may want to seek you vet’s advice; it could be the sign of a medical problem.

A cat’s ear tufts. Photo courtesy PCB75.

I’m Aggressive or Angry: If your cat is experiencing either of these emotions, odds are his ears will also flatten, but more to the side. This is because he’s combining several ear positions – the cat is remaining alert, so he’s keeping his ears mostly forward, but he’s also fearful, so his ears are flattening. If your cat (or another cat) is assuming this position, you’ll want to leave them alone. Trying to pick up or touch the cat could result in a serious injury.

I Have Mixed Feelings: Sometimes you’ll see your cats’ ears doing two different things. That likely means that your cat isn’t sure how to react to what’s going on around him. His attention may be pulled in two different directions, or he may not have decided how he feels about the situation yet. Watch his ear positions change as he makes up his mind.

Here’s a great reference guide from


The reason why cats’ ears flatten when they are nervous or angry is simply instinctual. It’s a way to protect his ears from claws and teeth during a fight.

And here’s another great thing to remember: If your cat’s ear position ever stays the same, for example if they always twitch or if they’re frequently horizontal, and the actions don’t match the emotions, you’ll want take your cat into the vet. On going issues like these could be signs of medical issues.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ms. Phoebe permalink
    March 10, 2013 5:43 am

    My Mom and I found this to be a interesting post, she never realized how much information we kitties communicate with our ears. I am glad she was able to learn something so that she is able to serve me in an even better manner in which I demand and deserve. She’s does pretty good most of the time, yet can always benefit from some occassional refreshment course in human training. MOL!

  2. anon permalink
    August 21, 2017 6:42 pm

    why do u refer to this cat as a boy, i have a girl and i could not relate


  1. All you need to know to decode feline body language - Aw Kitty

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