Q: Why does my cat wash his ears?

June 27, 2010 | By Mary T. | 1 answer | Expired: 2036 days ago

Mary T.

When a cat washes his ears, a storm will follow — or so my grandmother used to say. Is there any scientific basis to this?

Chosen Answer

Whether or not their ears need washing, cats’ ears and internal structures are capable of amazing things.

Balance and orientation are the main functions of the inner ears’ vestibular apparatus — consisting of fluid-filled structures (the semicircular canals, utricle and saccule) with millions of microscopic hairs and tiny particles floating in the rippling fluids. (“Oops, I’m falling upside down! Better flip around and land on my feet.”) Such a complex system might have other capabilities as well.

Certainly a cat’s hearing is better than your grandmother’s — not only for high-pitched sounds (up to 50 or 65 kilohertz, whereas humans strain to hear 20 kilohertz) but also very low frequency rumbles (like distant thunder) that are more easily felt than heard. It could be that a cat’s inner ear structures — with their exquisite sensitivity to vibrations, static electricity and changes in atmospheric pressure — begin to tingle as a storm approaches. So, it could be that cats tend to their ears because they “have a funny feeling.”

The Weather Channel needs a few good cats.

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