Cats have a wide variety of body language to communicate what’s going on inside their heads. They may bear their fangs to intimidate an opponent in a fight or flick their tail to communicate interest or curiosity, but what does it mean when they put their ears back?
Cats put their ears back to signal many things, most often distress. Cats will pin their ears back when they are on the defense from a known enemy or unknown danger. They may also put their ears back to block wind from entering their ear canal or finding the source of a sound behind them.
Even though your furry friend’s ears are back, it doesn’t always mean he’s upset. Read on to learn about all of the reasons why your feline might be putting his ears back.
They Are Angry
The most common reasons why a cat will put its ears back are for negative reasons. Angry cats will turn their ears outward and pull them back towards their skulls. They will often crouch down, hissing if they are backed in a corner. Warning growls are long and low, building in volume and intensity if the intruder doesn’t get the signal at first. Angered cats will also seem to glare at their opponent, and their fur collar, hackles, will be raised.
They Are Frightened
Cats can also be put on the defensive if they are frightened. While a frightened cat shares many of the same physical traits as an angry cat, there are slight differences. A cat that is suddenly scared by a loud sound will pull its ears back, but they usually stick up from the head more than if they are simply mad.
Kitties also often jump into the air when they are shocked, and they will arch their back and expand their claws rapidly. Their hackles will stand in the air, and their eyes will open wide, searching for the source of the sound.
It Is Windy Outside
Another reason why cats put their ears back has nothing to do with mood. Instead, it’s a physical reaction to a physical effect. Cats’ ears are very sensitive and can pick up sounds four or five times farther away than humans can. You can imagine that a strong wind that is loud in your ears would be deafening to a cat. To block the wind from entering their ears, they will often put their ears back as they run from cover to cover.
A Loud Sound Is Happening
Just like strong winds, loud, sudden sounds can be deafening to a cat. Instinctively, a cat will put its ears back against its head if a loud sound erupts nearby. A car backfiring, a fireworks display or loud music can all drive a cat’s ears backward. You might see your cat run and hide if loud music starts or if you’re watching a movie and a loud action sequence begins. Your cat will likely press his ears against his head to try and protect his sensitive eardrums from the intense noise.
They Are Confused
A cat that is confused or analyzing a potential threat may aim its ears sideways or backward as well. A cat in this position is likely trying to understand something nearby. If its ears are turned sideways, it may be listening to the world around it, trying to determine what the mysterious thing is. If its ears are turned fully backward, it could be expressing dismay or tentative curiosity. Either way, you should approach a cat with its ears back with caution.
They Are Content
On the contrary of most reasons on this list, some cats put their ears back when they are content. If you and your cat have a one-on-one cuddle session, they may relax their ears, facing them out to the side and slightly back. Your cat may also close its eyes and purr loudly if it’s very happy. In this case, the ears pointing back are not a sign of warning at all.
They Are Trying To Find the Source of a Sound
A cat has a keen sense of hearing and can distinguish between sounds that happen just three inches (7.62 cm) apart, which is part of what makes them such formidable hunters. Their ears can turn almost fully around, and they can also swivel independently of each other. If there is a sound coming from the side or behind the cat, then the cat might turn its ears back to try and determine the source of the sound.
How Can You Tell Why Your Cat’s Ears Are Back?
All of these reasons are the potential answer for why your cat’s ears are back, but how do you find out which one applies to your cat? To determine the cause for your cat’s flattened ears, you need to look at the situation’s context. If your cat is curled up on your lap on the couch and they are purring or sleeping, and their ears are back, then you have nothing to worry about. Your cat is at ease and is letting their guard down because they feel safe with you.
If your cat is standing on the edge of your bed at night, staring into the dark, and its ears are pulled back, it’s likely a sign that something odd is going on. Don’t be too frightened. However, it could be as simple as another pet in the house entering the room, or it could be a pipe creaking in the house that scared the cat.
You can comfort your cat by talking to them gently before reaching out to pet them. If you touch your cat without speaking, they may not have noticed you wake up, and they could react violently if scared.
A few situations in which a cat’s flattened ears are a key warning sign to stay away. If your cat is hissing, if its back is arched, and if it is baring its fangs or claws, absolutely do not touch the cat. This is an animal on the strongest defense, and they will swat at you or bite you if you get too close.
If you find a cat in a small enclosed space, and its ears go back when you get near, this is a clear warning sign that they do not want to be disturbed. This sign can come from a stray cat you’re attempting to pet or from your cat who you’ve found under the bed.
If you need to get your pet out from a small space for some reason, and they put their ears back, it’s a good idea to use an inanimate object to gently nudge them out of the space instead of reaching your hand into their domain.
You’ll easily be able to tell if your cat’s ears are back due to a loud sound, as long as your hearing is normal. Any sound that is slightly loud to you will be roaring to a cat, and they may run and hide until the noise is over.
Cats put their ears back for various reasons, most of which communicate that the cat is upset or defensive. Startled, scared, or angry cats will pin their ears backward to show their unhappiness. Other cats may put their ears back if there is a loud sound nearby or strong wind. To make it even more confusing, a cat may put its ears back when it is content and relaxed, particularly if it’s being petted.
To determine why your cat’s ears are back, you need to analyze the situation’s context and give the cat space if it looks upset.
- Cat Talk: A Guide to Cat Body Language
- Animal Planet: Cat Ears & Hearing
- Harts: Your Cat’s World: How a Feline Uses Its Senses
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.