Sunday 25 February 2024

Why do domestic cats have thinner fur between the ear flaps and the eyes?

The Live Science website asks a similar question but I think the way I have asked the question is more accurate. They ask "why do cats have bald spots in front of their ears?" Well, firstly, these are not bald spots. The hair is thinner between the top of the eyes and the flaps. Secondly, although Live Science claim that small wild cats have the same anatomical characteristics, I don't think they do. On this page you will see a headshot of a serval which is a medium-sized wild cat compared with a headshot of a black domestic cat.

This is typical of the black domestic cat but there are variations:

Headshot of a black domestic cat showing thinning of the fur between eye and ear flaps.
Black domestic cat showing thinning hair from above the eyes to the base of the ear flap where skin is genuinely bald. The photograph is from Wikipedia and therefore published it under licence.

This is a serval:

Headshot of a serval showing no thinning of the between the eyes and flat
Serval headshot showing continuous fur above the eyes and up to the flaps. This photograph, it is believed, as in the public domain.

You will see that the serval's fur between the eyes and the that is pretty solid and it doesn't seem to be thinning to me. Another point worth making is this: every time we discuss this topic we invariably show an image of a black domestic cat. This is because there is greater contrast between the white skin underneath the black fur making the thinning coat more obvious.

Also the fur there tends to stand on end. It is vertical which makes the skin underneath more visible.

Another point worth making is this: I don't think all domestic cats have the same level of thinning fur at this point on their face. It varies which is understandable because domestic cats do very.

But it has to be said that often times we see this characteristic so what causes it? The frustrating answer is that we don't know. I think one reason is that the hair strands tend to sit more vertically at that point which makes the skin below easier to see which could add to the impression that there is partial bolding at that point.

Live Science suggests that the thinning fur at that point is to help with hearing because the sound waves bounce off the head between the eyes and ears before entering near ear canal and impinging upon the eardrum. So this thinning fur maybe to do with improving hearing. That's the best guess so far.

It might have nothing whatsoever to do with hearing, however. It might just be a domestic cat trait because of their domestication. Fur is present to keep the cat warm and to protect them. Arguably, both of these benefits are not strictly required by a well cared for domestic cat. Perhaps, then, it is an evolutionary trait during the 10,000 years of domestication. That is another big guess.

It may be nothing to do with evolution. It could be a problem with thinning coats generally due to their lifestyle and/or diet which might not be entirely appropriate but which is not clear to humans. Perhaps the domestic cat is losing fur and this process is not visible in most areas of the coat because the fur is denser elsewhere than in the area between the top of the eye and ear flaps.

So perhaps this so-called bald patch is a symptom of a generalised inadequate domestic cat caregiving and its variation is because in some homes caregiving a superior than in other homes. We need another study on this to do some tests to get to the bottom of it.


P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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