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Why Do My Cat's Ears Go Back?

According to Vets, Your Cat's Ears Can Go Back For Any Number of Reasons Besides Fear

An angry domestic tabby cat hisses, showing her teeth.

As an owner of two cats, I am always gushing about how amazing my little furry friends are. Whether they are making us laugh on TikTok or creating castles out of cardboard boxes, they make everyday fun and exciting. In addition to this though, they are pretty complex creatures with some interesting personality traits.

For example, chances are you may have witnessed your cat's ears going back on more than one occasion — but what exactly causes this? And why does it happen? POPSUGAR spoke to two vets to find out more.

What Is The Reasoning Behind This Behaviour?

As it turns out, pulled back ears are just one of the many ways that cats get across exactly how they are feeling. "Cats have quite a few visual signals, of which ear position is one," explains Matthew McCarthy, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Juniper Valley Animal Hospital in Middle Village, NY. "As with many of these signals, it is used to signal aggressive behaviours — in other words, a means to bluff their opponents, whether it is an inquisitive veterinarian or another cat," he adds.

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What Are Some Specific Reasons They Do This?

According to Madison Rose, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Peaceful Waters Aquamation in San Diego, cats may pin back their ears for reasons including fear and anxiety paired with avoidance, fear and anxiety paired with repulsion, frustration, and lastly, pain.

Dr. Rose explains that if a cat's ears are turned back or flattened with a furrowed brow, it can mean that they are fearful, anxious, and trying to steer clear of a threat. "This type of behaviour is an effort to maintain safety from a perceived threat by avoiding the danger," says Dr. Rose. This type of behaviour is often combined with freezing, crouching, moving away slowly, and dilated pupils. Owners in multiple pet households may have experienced this firsthand when introducing a new animal into the home.

Another reason for pulled back ears may be that they are experiencing fear and anxiety with a heaping side of repulsion. Think of when two cats, who aren't very fond of each other, cross paths in close quarters. "Ears flattened and out to the side can indicate fear and anxiety in an effort to get rid of the perceived threat," says Dr. Rose, "This behaviour can also be seen coupled with hissing, swiping, and standing taller with hair standing up on their back."

Another common cause for cats to pull their ears back is because they are frustrated. Ever not give your cat enough attention while working or take away their favourite toy only to be met with an unhappy kitty? "Flattening or rotating the ears outwards can be an indication of frustration or when something is not meeting your cat's expectations," says Dr. Rose. Dr. Rose points out that if a cat is particularly annoyed, they may also be vocalizing more, rubbing themselves on people or objects, and moving their tail vigourously back and forth.

Lastly, they may not do this because they are fearful or afraid — but because they are in pain. "Pain is very difficult to notice in cats as they hide it very well," says Dr. Rose, "Other behaviours that may indicate pain are hiding, withdrawing, dilated pupils, and a hunched back." Both vets advise that it is very important to get your cat to a doctor to get checked out if you believe your cat may be experiencing any type of pain.

How Can You Calm Your Cat Down?

Thankfully, there are a few simple ways that you can help ease the tension and calm your cat down. "If it's your cat, and the behaviour is directed toward you, then it's time for you to leave," says Dr. McCarthy, " If you are present when this behaviour is occurring between two cats — maybe when you are introducing a new kitty to the family — then it's appropriate to step in and scoot one of the kitties away."

Dr. McCarthy also adds that if the perceived threat is gone, there isn't too much more you should do. "In most cases, if the perceived threat is gone, you don't have to do much to calm your cat, as they'll relax on their own," Dr. McCarthy says.

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