Cats can have a complex relationship with mirrors. Some felines stare at their reflections for hours on end. Some flee instantly, as though terrified of their own reflection. Others yet will grow aggressive, clawing at mirrors.
Cats can see their own reflection in mirrors, but rarely recognize themselves. This means that your cat thinks that another feline has gained access to its home, leading to fear or territorial aggression.
If mirrors make your cat feel anxious or skittish, try to minimize your cat’s interaction with reflective surfaces around the home. This prevents your cat from hurting itself when running away, as well as reducing the risk of shattered glass should a standing mirror fall over.
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Do Cats Recognize Themselves in the Mirror?
Most cats will not recognize their reflection because they do not really use sight to distinguish faces. Cats rely more heavily on scent and sound. This is why cats react more to the voice of an owner than their physical presence.
In order to understand if cats can recognize themselves, we need to consider the results of The Mirror Test. This was a psychological experiment conducted in 1970.
As explained by The Cognitive Animal, chimpanzees were shown their own reflections in a mirror. The reaction of these chimpanzees was then studied. The intention to learn whether the apes recognized themselves.
Like cats, the chimpanzees initially reacted territorially and aggressively. This was marked as a failure of the mirror test. To pass, a chimpanzee needed to display an understanding of reflective surfaces.
This was achieved by marking the body of the ape in some way. If this mark was recognized in its reflection and looked for it the body, the chimpanzee passed. Most of the test subjects passed the mirror tests after a few days.
Have Cats Passed the Mirror Test?
Over time, the mirror test was expanded to include other animal subjects – including cats. The results to this day remain inconclusive. The main issue is that felines are unapologetically independent. Cats rarely comply with human wishes, especially during scientific experiments.
You could try to conduct your own mirror test, though. Simply place a sticker on a cat’s paw or chest. A blue or green sticker is recommended, as cats find these hues easiest to distinguish.
Place the cat in front of a mirror once the sticker is in place. Once the cat sees the sticker in the mirror, you need to check for a reaction. The cat may recognize the foreign object and try to remove it with its paws or teeth.
This suggests that the cat has passed the mirror test. If your cat achieves this feat, it is less likely to react to mirrors in the future. It understands that it is seeing its own reflection and not that of another feline.
Do Cats Like Mirrors?
Many owners notice that cats behave strangely around mirrors. Felines have a wide array of reactions to reflective surfaces. These could include:
- Running away
- Staring into the mirror as though transfixed
- Attacking the mirror, claws unsheathed
- Meowing and verbalizing, often with increasing intensity
- Complete indifference
Most of these reactions stem from the same explanation. The cat sees its reflection but does not recognize itself. Instead, the cat thinks that another cat is in the house. A fight-or-flight response will then be triggered.
If this is the case, it is safe to assume that the cat does not like mirrors. Cats are naturally territorial and averse to sharing.
Do Mirrors Scare Cats?
It’s quite possible that your cat will flee when it sees a mirror. It all depends on how your cat normally reacts to threats. If your cat is afraid of mirrors, you’ll need to manage the situation. Regular anxiety attacks spike a cat’s heart rate, which can be dangerous for some animals.
Start by minimizing your cat’s exposure to mirrors. That does not mean taking down all reflective surfaces in the home. That is not a realistic or sustainable objective. Instead, focus on these techniques:
- Cover mirrors when you are out of the house or asleep
- Block a cat’s line of sight for full-length mirrors with furniture
- Provide your cat with territory devoid of reflective surfaces
- Place relaxing scents and pheromones around mirrors.
You could also practice exposure therapy. Play with your cat in front of the mirror, and sprinkle catnip to encourage investigation. This is teaching your cat that mirrors can be a source of enjoyment and pleasure.
Why Does My Cat Scratch Mirrors?
Cats scratching at mirrors is a common, but unwelcome, behavior. It’s unlikely the cat will damage the mirror. Glass is typically sturdy enough to resist the keratin found in feline claws. All the same, the cat risks hurting itself should a freestanding mirror topple over.
Cats attack mirrors for one of two reasons – aggression toward perceived intruders and territorial marking. The former is most common. Some felines immediately launch into attack at such a sight. This is a fear-based response. The cat is worried that it will lose territory, food, or affection to this new arrival. As such, it considers attack the best form of defense.
Eventually, the cat will outgrow this behavior. It will notice the lack of scent and contact coming from its rival. This can take a while though, and damage can be done in the short term. It’s safest to watch out for, and eliminate, this action.
Even if a cat is not attacking a mirror aggressively, it may scratch. This is a simple matter of the cat claiming the surface as its own. Cats have sweat glands in their paws. Rubbing paws on a surface releases this scent, and glass holds the scent well.
Alas, you are likely to clean smudges from a mirror regularly. This, in turn, will remove any trace of your cat’s scent. It may then resort to scratching to create a more permanent reminder of ownership. Claw marks send a clear message – “this area is taken, move along.”
A cat’s claws are rarely strong enough to embed grooves into a mirror. While your mirror is safe, your cat’s claws may not be. The cat may damage itself paws during this scratching process. Calm the cat down and provide it with an alternative territory.
Cat Meowing At Mirror
A cat that meows at its reflection is not talking to itself. Cats do not communicate with their fellow felines using meows beyond kittenhood. This sound has evolved exclusively to capture human attention.
A cat that meows at a mirror is calling for you. It’s likely that the cat is telling you there is another animal in the home. The cat does not want to deal with this intruder itself and wants you to rectify the situation.
Cat Stares at the Mirror for Hours
Some cats will stare intently into a mirror for several hours at a time. Felines are fastidious about their appearance, after all. In this instance, though, narcissism is not involved.
It assumes the reflection is another, invading animal. The cat has elected not to flee or fight, though. Instead, it has rooted to the spot in fear. The cat is watching for any sign of aggression.
If the cat is completely static and frigid, it is likely petrified. This is the equivalent of freezing to the spot when a car’s headlights approach. If this is the case, gently distract your cat. Make a noise. Not too loud, and not too sudden. Make a sound that breaks the fascination with the mirror.
If the cat makes movements, regardless of how subtle, it is testing for a response. Cats communicate primarily through body language. The cat will be watching to see if this infiltrator takes the same action. This could be as subtle as a flick or the tail or lifting of the paw.
Cat Doesn’t React to Its Own Reflection
Perhaps your cat has learned to cease fearing reflective surfaces. The cat will know the feline in mirror is itself and will continue about its business.
Perhaps your cat is calm around other felines. If your cat interacts with neighborhood pets without incident, this could be the explanation. The cat is nonplussed by the idea of an extra feline in the home.
This is also made possible by the absence of scent from the mirror. Scent is a key communicator tool for cats. As the reflection cannot release any aromas that denote aggression, the cat is unconcerned.
Ensure that your cat’s vision is not failing. If it bumps into furniture, or struggles to locate food or water, it may be losing sight. As explained by the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, senior cats experience degradation of vision with age.