What Is the Henry's Pocket in Cats?
See files for Cats
Also known as Henry's pouch, the Henry's pocket is a fold in the skin which creates a little chamber on the outer side of the ear pinna. The purpose of this part of a cat's ear anatomy is not well understood. It is possibly a vestigial trait, but it is something which appears on some other mammal species. Since it is part of the skin of the outer ear, it is known as a cutaneous marginal pouch.
At AnimalWised, we pose the question what is the Henry's pocket in cats? We discover the possible functions of this part of a cat's ear, its origins and anything else you could need to know.
What is a Henry's pocket?
The Henry's pocket or Henry's pouch is a fold of additional skin on the outer ear pinnae of cats. It is part of the conical opening to the external acoustic meatus (EAM), otherwise known as the external ear canal. Although we will look at some theories of its purpose, we do not know why cats have a Henry's pocket. In fact, there has been no conclusive evidence that it serves any purpose.
To a certain degree, its description as a cutaneous marginal pouch is as specific as we can get. It is cutaneous because it is a fold of skin, it is marginal because it appears on the margin of the ear pinna and it is a pouch because it creates a little pocket in the fold.
Why it is called a Henry's pocket is not known. It is most likely due to its naming by a particular veterinarian who may have used their own name. However, this is conjecture. The scientific literature does not have a record of the origin of the name of the Henry's pocket.
You can often see the Henry's pocket on cats with larger ears. Take a look at our guide to long-eared domestic cat breeds.
Why do cats have a Henry's pocket?
As we have already stated, the purpose and function of the Henry's pocket is not known. It is possible it previously had a purpose, but remains only as a vestigial part of the feline's anatomy. When something is vestigial, it means it no longer has a function after the course of evolution has allowed other adaptations to replace it.
Although the Henry's pocket in cats may be a remnant of something else, there are some theories as to its purpose and function. These include the following:
- Protection: especially in the wild, cats need their ears to understand their environment. As predators, they need to listen out for movement to catch prey. They also need to do the same to prevent becoming prey. Mites, insects, dirt, moisture and other external elements can damage the ear. In doing so, it threatens their survival. For this reason, the Henry's pocket in cats might provide an extra barrier of protection from these elements.
- Movement: when a cat moves their ears, the Henry's pocket can decompress or change shape. This might allow the cat to have better movement of the ear. This can help them to clean their ears more easily or adjust them for other purposes.
- Enhance sound: another posible reason for the Henry's pocket is to allow the cat to better hear sound from their environment. The pouch itself might be able to create a chamber of air which allows sounds to be enhanced when entering the inner ear canal. The movement allowed by the Henry's pocket might also help locate sound by focusing the direction of the pinna.
- Communication: the greater movement which the Henry's pocket may afford can be used in another way. A cat's body language is vital for communication, with the ears being particularly important. Their shape and position can allow us to know if the cat is angry, relaxed, happy or one of many other emotions they express. The Henry's pocket may help aid this expression by allowing greater movement of the ears.
The Henry's pocket is present in some other mammals, such as dogs, weasels and bats, but it is particularly prominent in cats. The reason for the Henry's pocket in these other animals is also unknown, but the above theories may apply to them also.
Should I be worried about the Henry's pocket?
Although we do not know the true function of the Henry's pocket in cats, we do know that it does not cause them any harm. It is not known to be any more susceptible to problems which might affect other parts of the cat's ear pinnae.
The care of the Henry's pocket is the same as the care for the rest of the external ear. This requires the following:
- Regular cleaning
- Protection from the sun (especially on hot days)
- Checking for parasites
- Knowing their sensitivity
If you see a cat keeps scratching their ears, it could be due to parasites such as mites. We need to look all over for evidence of these parasites, including in the Henry's pocket. We also need to be considerate of their sensitivity. Although cats often enjoy their ears being stroked, this should only be done gently and we need to observe for any signs the cat is annoyed.
Take a look at our related article to learn more about the best places to pet a cat.
How to clean the Henry's pocket in cats
When we clean a cat's ears, we need to ensure we check the Henry's pocket as well. This area is as sensitive as the other parts of the ear, so we need to ensure the cat is relaxed and not going to become stressed during their cleaning. The following are the basic steps to cleaning the Henry's pocket in cats:
- Ensure the cat is relaxed: if they start to become agitated, we can put on some calming music and provide reassurance with some affection. We can also use a treat as positive reinforcement for the cat. If a cat is particularly stressed, it might be helpful to have someone else hold the cat while we do the cleaning. Wrapping the cat in a towel can also help them be comfortably restrained.
- Check the ears of the cat: we will need to look for the presence of dirt, ear wax accumulation, wounds, disease and possible parasites. If we see parasites, we will need to take them to a veterinarian for assessment and deworming.
- Clean with gauze: if we clean our cat's ears regularly, we should be able to clean them with water. Wet a clean piece of gauze and rub it around the outside of the external ear canal. This includes the Henry's pocket, taking special care to get inside the pouch. If the ear is particularly dirty, we need to use a suitable ear cleaner for cats. Apply a few drops to the gauze and repeat the cleaning process.
- Dry the ear: use another piece of dry gauze to remove any excess moisture. Finish giving the cat's ears a gentle massage and provide more positive reinforcement.
Check your cat's ears at least once a week and clean them at least twice a month. If we see any signs of disease, parasites or any other abnormalities, take the cat to the veterinarian. Possible symptoms include the cat's ears feeling hot to the touch.
If you want to read similar articles to What Is the Henry's Pocket in Cats?, we recommend you visit our Ear care category.
1. Wilcock, B. P., & Njaa, B. L. (2016). Special Senses. Jubb, Kennedy & Palmer's Pathology of Domestic Animals: Volume 1, 407–508.e2.