by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cat’s ears are designed for hearing and also for signalling their mood. While ears are normally upright to catch most sounds, they can be moved forwards, backwards and sideways. These positions can be in order to pick up specific sounds or they can be an indication of their mood. As with all cat-language, other signals and the current situation must be considered when ‘reading’ the ears of a cat.
Like tail signals, ear signals are silent forms of communication. These are helpful when sounds may be distracting or not heard above the environmental noise, or may be misconstrued by the receiver. Ear positions can be held for long periods of time with minimal effort to enforce the message.
Cats may twitch their ears while considering a situation, in order to pick up sounds from all directions. Sometimes the ears seem to switch between two positions at the same time, or each ear has a different position. This often means she is uncertain about the current situation or threat. Once she has considered the evidence she will set her ears in position to indicate her feelings.
Ears forward is an indication of alertness, curiosity, friendliness, openness to new experiences, playful, hunting, concentration, contentment; a positive mood.
When the ears point backwards it indicates anxiety, fear, fright, or over stimulation. The degree of movement determines the level of anxiety; slightly back means slightly anxious, the further back the more fearful. Ears flat against the head indicate a high level of stimulation, anger or fearfulness. The ears may twitch as she picks up sounds. This position is also a measure designed to protect the ears in the event of an attack.
Ears pointing sideways indicate a defensive position as a result of anger, fear, or nervousness. In this position it is still possible for the cat to hear sounds but the signal remains visible.
Angry cats may also fluff up their ears in order to catch the smallest sound. This is more obvious in long-haired cats and those with ear tufts.
If one ear is forward or upright and the other is in a different position the cat may be trying to pinpoint a particular noise.
When the ears appear to be stuck in one position all the time, despite a changing environment, there may be an issue with the ears. Please schedule a visit to your vet.
Learning the meaning of her ears, and reading her other signals, will help you understand your cat and allow you to help her deal with scary situations successfully while keeping out of the way of her claws.