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Why Can’t My Cat See Himself In A Mirror?

If you have seen your cat looking at the mirror, and acting weird you may wonder if they actually understand what they are looking at.

Why can’t my cat see himself in a mirror?

You might assume that your cat cannot recognize himself in a mirror. He does actually see himself, but he thinks he’s looking at another cat. As a cat walks by a mirror, he may stop, puff himself up, try to touch this “other cat”, or even attack the mirror.

So, now you know that your cat cannot do this. But, can they identify other objects in the mirror? Do large cats react in the same manner? Why do some cats go crazy in front of the mirror? Keep reading to get these answers, and much more…

 

How do a cat’s sense of smell affect the mirror?

Cats, rely on their sense of smell to identify other cats. So, most often, he will quickly get bored and give up when he realizes his mirror reflection doesn’t have a scent and is not a threat.

Do cats identify other objects in the mirror?

Why can't my cat see himself in a mirror?

Cat near a mirror.

Yes, a cat will study all of the objects it sees in the mirror. It may even study everything carefully, including itself. Again, once he senses there is not a threat, he will likely continue on his way and become uninterested in what he sees in the mirror.

If a cat sees movement in a mirror, he will likely become curious and want to check it out. So, he does notice other objects in a mirror, especially if they are moving. Cats are curious animals, so he will likely want to see what’s causing the movement and may even bat at the mirror or stare at it for a while.

How do cats react to their reflection?

Different animal species have different levels of mirror self-awareness. Cats are different though. Although your cat may react when he sees his reflection in the mirror, he doesn’t recognize the cat as himself.

All cats react differently though. Larger cats, such as tigers and lions,  might be surprised by their reflection and jump back in surprise or fear. Perhaps this is where the term “scaredy cat” came from.

Stare at their reflection

Others might stare at their reflections, barely blinking as their tails move back and forth. Some house cats might swipe at the mirror or even attack their own image. Cats may also be very vocal and meow or even roar at the mirror.

Curious cats

Cats are often very curious when they see their reflection in a mirror. It’s interesting to watch the different reactions. Two cats living in the same house will likely react in different ways.

Why do some cats attack mirrors?

There are many reasons why a cat might act out and attack their own reflection in a mirror. If it’s a cat’s first time seeing its reflection, it will be very curious. It might feel defensive and attack this new “intruder” not realizing it’s attacking its own reflection.

Thinks its a window

A cat might also associate the mirror with a window and think that he’s looking at a cat outside. He might then feel threatened and feel like he has to attack the cat. If he is naturally aggressive, he may begin to associate the mirror with something negative. So, when he sees his reflection, he attacks.

Fear

A cat who is gazing in a mirror might also become suspicious when he cannot find the source, so its fearful reaction seems aggressive in nature.

If the cat fears that it’s in danger it may continue to attack the mirror until the behavior is corrected. In some cases, you may have to cover the offending mirror with a blanket or paper to avoid further attacks.

Do some large cats go crazy at mirrors too?

Domestic cats are not the only ones to exhibit crazy or aggressive behavior when they spot their reflection in a mirror. Larger, wild cats tend to do the same thing. The reasons are also the same.

Wild cats fear that an intruder is coming into their personal space. They attack the mirror out of aggression or fear. Just like domestic cats, they often lose interest when they cannot smell the cat’s scent and realize that they are not a threat.

What can you do if your cat attacks your mirrors?

If your cat continues to attack the mirrors in your home, you might have to try to correct the behavior. You can train your cat to accept that his mirror reflection is harmless and not a threat. If your cat is just being playful, it is okay if you just ignore the behavior unless it bothers you.

Cover the mirrors

If the behavior becomes obsessive, you may need to cover the mirrors and remove all reflective surfaces that are your cat’s level. This way he no longer sees his reflection, halting the aggressive behavior.

You might be able to slowly reintroduce mirrors into your cat’s life to see if the aggressive mirror-attacking behavior has been resolved. You can put catnip or toys in front of the mirror. They may become distracted enough to ignore their reflection and associate the mirror with a happy place.

Why is it difficult to scientifically prove if cats recognize themselves?

There have been some studies that tell us that cats do recognize themselves in a mirror. However, it’s difficult to scientifically prove that cats recognize themselves in a mirror because cats do not know what they look like.

They rely on their sense of smell to make sense of the world around them. When a cat sees himself in the mirror, he’s likely just curious and checking himself out.

Can any animal recognize themselves in the mirror?

Most animals cannot recognize themselves in a mirror. In a mirror test, dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, and magpies can recognize their own reflection much as humans can. The mirror test was used with these animals to see if they could recognize their own reflection.

Most fail

Most animals, including cats, failed this test. Other animals may be aware of an object in a mirror but do not recognize the object as a reflection of themselves.

There are a lot of cute videos online that seem to indicate that cats, dogs, and other animals can recognize themselves in a mirror. These videos show animals staring at themselves and even attacking the image in the mirror.

Just reacting

Though it may seem that they see themselves in the mirror, what they are really doing is reacting to the object that they see moving in the mirror. They likely see the object as another animal, not realizing that it is a reflection of themselves.

How was the mirror used in the mirror-self-awareness test?

A mirror-self-awareness test was developed in 1970 to see if animals could recognize their own reflection in a mirror. Animals were marked with a red dot to see if they recognized the dot when they looked in the mirror.

If the cat touched or investigated the dot, it was an indication that the animal perceived the reflected image as itself. Most animals failed this test, including cats.

Although they recognize that there is an object moving in the mirror and they may become interested in it, they do not recognize this object as themselves.

Why don’t cats use mirrors for grooming?

Cats don’t use mirrors for grooming because they don’t recognize themselves in a mirror. Cats learn how to groom as kittens. They are usually self-grooming by the time they are weaned. There is no need for them to use a mirror to guide them in their grooming.

They spend almost 50% of their time grooming, a habit that comes very natural for them, so there is no need for a mirror.

Lindsey Browlingdon
 

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