The anatomy of a feline is truly profound. Our senses often pale in comparison to theirs, and their incredible physique and special cat-specific anatomy has a lot to do with it. Anyone who has ever studied their cat’s ears knows that they have a little slit on the side of each ear, with a coordinating “pocket” to match. Have you ever wondered to yourself why it is that cats have slits and pockets on their ears? Well, we’re happy to tell you, just keep reading!
First, it helps to understand the structure of a cat’s ear. The ear of a feline is divided into three individual sections: outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. And each cat’s ear has 32 muscles to help them control it…and, of course, to help them ignore you with. I like to refer to it as “selective hearing”—and cats are by far the best at practicing this!
Facts about the feline ear anatomy, courtesy of Ann Arbor Animal Hospital:
Unlike humans which have an ear canal that runs horizontally and allows for adequate air flow and drainage, a cat’s ear canal points downward, as does a canine’s. (Which is just another reason why pets are susceptible to ear infections, especially dogs.)
So, now that you’ve taken a look at the ear structure of a feline, let’s discuss those slits and that pocket, AKA Henry’s pocket or cutaneous marginal pouch, in detail.
Why is it That Cats Have Slits On Their Ears?
On the inner side of each cat’s ear, you will notice small slits which are located on the inside of the Henry’s pocket. These slits are thought to help your cat with amplifying sounds while aiding in cat ear flexibility.
Interesting cat hearing fact: your cat has the ability to rotate their ears 180 degrees and they can hear both higher and lower frequencies than a dog can. Therefore it should come as no surprise that a cat’s sense of hearing is by far their strongest sense. Much of this has to do with the structure of their ear, from those erect little triangles that sit on top of their head, with those frilly ear furnishings, and, of course, those slits and the Henry’s pocket.
For cats, their ears are one of their most-used tools for expression. With these slits on their ears, it offers more range and flexibility—especially when they are expressing discontent or anger. You know, ears flat, ready to strike!
The Theory Behind the Reason For Their Henry’s Pocket
Although technically called the cutaneous marginal pouch, the cat’s ear pocket is most commonly referred to as the Henry’s pocket.
And, as it turns out, cats are not the only animals to have these little pouches. A few other animals have them too, such as the Fennec fox, a few dog breeds, and bats.
While it’s a somewhat rare occurrence for different species of animals, its name and origin are quite a mystery. (Sorry, no real explanation on the “Henry” part!) It’s nothing more than a skin fold and obviously not a cause for concern, but the actual reason as to why cats have them remains unknown. The design of a cat’s ear might have something to do with it, and perhaps the structure helps to amplify even the slightest of sounds.
If you understand the way cats hear, then this will likely make a lot more sense. The adorable triangle shape of the outer ear that we see is called the pinna. The pinna is what funnels sounds into the ear and down to the middle ear where the ear canal sits. The tiny bones inside of the cat’s ear then sends vibrations to the inner ear. With the Henry’s pocket found on the outer ear at the base, perhaps this serves as a projector, or like a cat megaphone so to speak to alert their curious little minds to all the intriguing sounds around them.
Think of a cat’s predatory nature and need for survival for a moment, imagining that they are out in the wild and not in the comfort of your living room. Your cat needs impeccable hearing to hunt their next meal in order to survive. So, cats have slits and pockets in their ears serve to help them do just that!
Want to read more on feline senses and how they compare to humans? Check out our article here called Cat Senses Are Far Superior To Yours. Here’s Why.
Have you ever wondered why cats have saggy bellies? No, it’s not because they’re living the life and binging on cat treats, there’s actually a totally interesting science behind it!
Read about it here on our article called What’s Up With My Cat’s Saggy Belly? Hint: It’s Not What You Think!
REMEMBER: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP; FOSTERING SAVES LIVES & SPAY AND NEUTER!