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Henry’s Pocket: Each Query About That Bizarre Cat Ear Flap Answered


There are so many things about cats that are interesting. From their incredible ability to land on their feet to those cute toe beans, the list is almost infinite. But there is one thing about cats that is both cute and little understood–that strange little flap of skin at the base of their ears: the Henry’s Pocket. So what is it, why is it there, and how did it get its name?

What is a Henry’s Pocket?

Technically called a cutaneous marginal pouch, the Henry’s Pocket is the little pocket of skin at the outside base of a cat’s ears. It’s cute. It’s soft. And that’s about all we know for sure.

What does a Henry’s Pocket do?

Cat sitting on the roof

Cat ears are pretty amazing. There are 32 muscles in each ear, nearly twice as many as most dogs, and these allow cats to move their ears independently of one another. Cat ears are also specifically designed to funnel sound–ideal for locating prey. Cats can hear an entire octave and a half higher than humans and an octave higher than dogs.

To get really technical, cats can hear sound waves in the range of 48Hz up to 85kHz. According to researchers at the University of Toledo, this is “one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals”. Knowing that the calls of rats and mice range from 22 to 70 kHz, this helps explain just what those amazing cat ears are tuned into. Bringing it all back to the Henry’s Pocket, it is generally assumed that this unique feature serves to amplify such sounds.

Common conjecture regarding the usefulness of the Henry’s Pocket is that it helps aid a cat in detecting higher pitched sounds by acting as a muffler to lower pitched sounds. It’s like the pocket separates the two, delaying lower pitched sounds by bouncing them around in the pocket, allowing the higher frequency sounds made by potential prey to be amplified.

Other theories about the usefulness of the Henry’s Pocket include:

  • Helping the ears to fold
  • Extra cuteness
  • Assisting a cat in ignoring you

Why Is It called a Henry’s Pocket?

No one seems to know how, or why, this little ear anomaly got its name. Based on the assumptions regarding its usefulness, we’re going to go out on a limb and share our own best theory. Here goes:

Joseph Henry was an American scientist who was well-regarded during his time. He served as the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and is best known for his studies of electromagnetic induction, magnetism, and radio waves. Impressively, according to Britannica.com, his experiments with electricity, magnetism and sound waves led him to breakthroughs in powerful electromagnets, and sending radio waves across long distances. Henry’s studies and discoveries included how sound travels, creating measurements for wind gusts, measuring the heat of sunspots, and even aiding Samuel Morse in the development of the telegraph. The “Henry” is the name of the standard electrical unit of inductive resistance. Perhaps because sound travels in waves, cat ears help to magnify sound waves, and it is suggested that Henry’s Pockets amplify sound, that these marvelous pockets were named in honor of the illustrious Joseph Henry?

We’re not certain whether or not Joseph Henry was a fan of the felines, but it does seem possible that someone decided to bestow this moniker on the mysterious miracle that is the cutaneous marginal pouch.

Do Other Animals Have Henry’s Pockets?

Cats share this physical feature with other animals. Some dogs have them, as do bats and weasels. One would assume the reasons for this are the same but since no one knows exactly what they do, one can also assume they have them for hunting and locating prey.

Is It safe To Clean My Cat’s Ears, Including The Henry’s Pocket?

Drying a Cute Devon Rex cat with a bath towel

In general, it is safe to clean a cat’s ears. Most cats won’t need much in the way of ear cleaning but some cats do suffer from dirt and wax build up, while others can be susceptible to ear infections. If you simply need to clean some build up, a steady, gentle hand and a cotton ball moistened with kitty ear cleanser are all you will need. PetMD recommends the following steps:

  • Find a comfortable area and position for you and your cat. You may find wrapping your cat in a towel helps keep her still during the cleaning.
  • Carefully apply a cleaner approved by your veterinarian to the ear canal, either by squeezing some from a saturated cotton ball, or by squeezing a small amount directly from the bottle into the ear canal.
  • Massage the base of the ear for a few seconds and then allow your cat to shake her head.
  • After your cat shakes out the excess cleaner, gently wipe the ear flap and visible opening of the ear canal with a cotton ball or with a finger wrapped in gauze.
  • Repeat with the other ear.
  • Reward your cat with her favorite treat or with some affection!

If your kitty is suffering from an ear infection or may have ear mites, you may need to get medication from your Vet. Be sure to ask for a demonstration on effectively administering ear drops as well as how best to perform a gentle cleaning.

Further Reading:

 

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