why do cats put ears back

Why Do Cats Put Their Ears Back?

Every creature on God’s good Earth has a way of communicating to the rest of the world.  As humans use the spoken word, cats use their body language.  It’s important to understand these slight signals, especially as cat owners.

Understanding a cat’s body language allows you to predict the possible reactions of your cat and allow you to reel the situation to your favor.  Imagine a guest in your house, sitting on your couch, giving your cat lots of love and you notice the subtle movement of his or her ears pulling back.  Will your cat scratch at your guest? Will s/he run away? Will s/he purr?

In this article, we’ll cover the following;

  • Why Cats Have Two Ears and How do Cat Ears Work
  • What It Means When Your Cat Pulls Their Ears Back
  • Other Ear Positions and What They Mean
  • How to Calm a Cat Down in Bad Situations

Why Cats Have Two Ears and How do Cat Ears Work

To understand the behavior of your cat and what his or her body is telling you, you should first identify whether the ears are moving cause of their mood or because of a sound.

Cats have two ears, just like most other mammals, to detect the location of a sound from their environment.  Just like us, we can tell which direction a sound is coming from by the strength of the soundwave hitting the eardrum.

When a cat locates a sound, the vibrations of it hits the pinna (large and visible ear flap).  This allows vibrations to travel down to the cochlea, deep within the cat’s skull where the information can be filtered to the brain and analyzed.

The arrangement of the muscles in the ear of the cat allows him or her to reduce the amount of vibrations to the cochlea by moving away or downward from the offending sound.

All in all, if your cat is moving their ears continuously, they are most likely moving it because of sound.  They are trying to locate its position.  Once you see the ears stay in a certain position, the move is related to a mood.  This is good for cat owners because it is easier to analyze ears when they aren’t jumping around on you.

What It Means When Your Cat Pulls Their Ears Back

When a cat has their ears pulled back and down, as if they were disappearing to the back of the neck, it means that the cat is afraid. It could also mean that there’s something your cat hates nearby. A possible outcome for your scared cat is to strike out and run away.  If you see this subtle tell while a guest is loving your cat, you may want to intervene before your guest goes home with scratch or bite marks.

Pay special attention to their behaviors.  Whether it be their ears going back, or them walking in front of you or someone else, it all means something.

Other Ear Positions and What They Mean

For a calm and relaxed cat, the ears are erect and pointing forward.  Petting this kitty may result in a purr bucket which is also a sure sign that your cat is relaxing.  S/he is getting rid of all the tension and stress of the day and is powering down for a nap.

If your cat’s ears are erect but facing to the side, your cat is awake and attentive.  S/he may be focused on an object or another animal in the house but it is unlikely to attack or hiss at anything.  If your cat does pounce at this point, this is because they’re playing.

When you see your cat’s ears flatten horizontally, aligned with the cap of its skull, prepare yourself.  You’ve encountered an angry kitty.  Running away is not something this cat is thinking about.  It’s ready to attack, if you come anywhere in striking distance.

The video below does a really good job of showing you cat ear positions and what they mean.

How to Calm a Cat Down in Bad Situations

When your cat is agitated, aggressive, or scared, the best way to handle him or her is to pet along the neck and head.  In veterinarian situations, the vet will sometimes place two fingers on the head and press down in order to calm your cat while administering vaccines or other procedures.

Avoid negative punishment when handling an upset kitty.  Shouting or hitting could make your cat associate you with danger.  Instead, reward him or her when s/he is being calm or playful.

Another good way to calm your cat, when they are often scared or angry, is pheromones.  For example, Feliway is a diffuser that mimics natural cat pheromones.  In some places that board cats, they use this to make your cat calm and comfortable in a new environment.  This does not have an immediate effect, so it should not be sprayed directly at a cat during an aggressive episode.


Watching the ears of your cat is a good way to understand what your non-verbal furry friend is thinking.  They tell us what the kitty is about to do, if he or she is hearing something and how we should handle him or her.

Just like people, cats can feel threatened and when you’re having guests or handling your cat yourself, knowing these tricks and behaviors can help you dissipate the situation so that everyone can get out scratch and bite free. Remember that even though cats do sometimes scratch or bite when in a situation they don’t like, there are many other things about cats that make them great pets.

Do you have a cat that puts it’s ears back often?  Is it not related to what I mentioned in the article?  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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