There is no doubt that cats are intelligent. However, there is a difference between a brain capable of learning and a brain that is aware of itself. Recognizing oneself in the mirror requires a deep understanding of the environment. Recognition in the mirror indicates a higher intelligence, which cats may or may not have.
Cats can see their reflection, but they do not recognize it as themselves. This was determined by the mirror test, which all cats studied failed. Cats see another cat in their reflection, not themselves. Therefore, most cats react angrily, while others ignore the mirror or look at it curiously.
Some researchers have criticized the mirror test as inaccurate or unfair. Cats may recognize themselves in the mirror. However, they may not communicate this in a way that we understand.
For example, it may be that the cat does not care enough about its reflection to respond. It could also be that she is confused by the lack of smell.
Cats seem to find mirrors frightening, uninteresting, or downright boring, depending on the cat.
Table of Contents
Can Cats Recognize Themselves in the Mirror?
Most studies indicate that cats do not recognize themselves in the mirror.
They can, of course, see that the mirror exists and react to the objects reflected in it. However, a cat is unable to recognize that the second cat in the mirror is itself.
The mirror test was developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. It is used to determine which animals can recognize themselves in a mirror.
In the test, a foreign object, usually a colored dot, is placed on the animal’s body in a location that can only be seen in the mirror. The animal is then placed in front of a mirror.
If the animal touches the dot or tries to remove it, this proves that it recognizes itself in the mirror. After all, it would only reach for the dot if it knew that the reflection was itself.
Do Cats Pass the Mirror Test?
According to the Nokia Research Center, cats do not pass the mirror test. When shown their reflection, they show one of 3 different reactions:
- Neutrality or curiosity
The most common reaction in a cat is hostility. She acts as if her reflection is another cat and tries to attack the mirror.
Other cats, on the other hand, act completely indifferent and ignore their reflection.
These subjects chose instead to either walk away or stay put without interacting with the mirror.
Cats do not pass the test because they only stare at their reflection or interact with it by sniffing the mirror, touching it with their paws, or rubbing against it.
Simply interacting with the mirror is not enough. Researchers following the rules established by Gordon Gallup Jr. require that the cat try to remove the dot to establish some self-awareness on the part of the animal.
This is because the cat could still mistake its reflection for another cat, even if it doesn’t react angrily.
Can Cats See Their Reflection?
Cats can see their reflection as long as they are close enough. Cats can see clearly at a distance of up to 20 feet. So if they are within that distance, they can see themselves in the mirror.
Keep in mind that domestic cats are nearsighted and partially color-blind. What they see in a mirror depends on how far away they are, whether they are wearing something and their general environment.
Cats can see blues and greens well, but they perceive reds dimly.
Therefore, if a cat is far away and there is a red or pink collar or article of clothing nearby, it will have difficulty seeing clearly what it is seeing.
Cats do not normally have reddish colors in their fur. Therefore, the cat may not even perceive its reflection as another cat when it sees something with a confusing color scheme.
The same is true if the cat is surrounded by reds and pinks. Furniture, people, and other animals or objects can confuse the cat’s perception in the mirror.
The cat may not see itself if the objects surrounding it are also visible in the mirror image.
Do Cats Understand Mirrors?
Many scientists have criticized the mirror test. They claim that it is not a reliable method to determine an animal’s self-perception.
Some researchers believe that the flaw in the test lies in the assumption that animals are interested in the point at all.
It could be that the cat recognizes its reflection but doesn’t care enough to interact with it or the dot. If so, there would be no way for humans to determine whether the cat is aware of itself.
The researchers also noted that the test does not do justice to the way animals communicate.
The test is based on responses to visual information. However, many animals rely heavily on their other senses, such as smell and hearing.
For example, dogs do not pass the mirror test, but they do pass the sniff test. They can distinguish their own urine from that of other dogs and recognize when their urine has been adulterated.
A similar study has yet to be conducted with cats. However, since their body language relies heavily on sounds and smells, it is reasonable to assume that they would also pass the test.
Animals that tend to be hostile when frightened, such as apes and gorillas, also fail the mirror test despite their high intelligence.
This could be because they do not have enough time and space to understand what is being put in front of them.
Their defensive behavior is therefore mistakenly interpreted as a lack of self-awareness. For the same reason, cats may also react aggressively during the test.
Because of all these factors, it is unfair to claim that cats do not understand mirrors. There is a good chance that they do understand something, even if only to a limited extent.
However, because the studies are not tailored to their cognitive blueprint, they do not pass these self-recognition tests.
Why Do Cats Stare in the Mirror?
Even though cats do not pass the mirror test and are unlikely to recognize themselves in a mirror, they still frequently stare into a mirror when given the opportunity.
When a cat stares into a mirror, it can be for two possible reasons:
They See a Movement
Cats can stare into the mirror because they see a moving object reflected in it. They are not aware that the object in question is actually behind them.
So that’s why they stare into the mirror while trying to figure out what it is and where it is.
They Just Stare
Sometimes, a cat will just stare into a mirror for a long time, but not because they are analyzing their reflection. Cats regularly stare at random things while perking their ears and focusing on interesting sounds.
Even if the cat has seen itself briefly in the mirror, that doesn’t mean it’s thinking about anything while it stares.
Cats do not have brains with human abilities for self-knowledge, so they cannot think about life, their past, their feelings, or themselves.
Why Do Cats Scratch at Mirrors?
When a cat interacts with a mirror, it usually tries to scratch it. Cats scratch mirrors for several reasons:
- They think it is another cat.
- They want to learn more about the mirror or reflection.
- It is a reliable way to get their owner’s attention.
When looking at their reflection, some cats treat the mirror as if they were interacting with another cat.
Scratching and pawing at the mirror then does not necessarily mean aggression, because cats use their paws to play with each other.
They also use their paws to learn more about the objects they interact with. For this and other reasons, cats also scratch windows.
Even if your cat is too young to really understand what the reflection represents, he may want to know how it works.
Cats are not as vocal as dogs, who bark to get our attention. Cats meow to communicate with us, but they also try to get a reaction in other ways.
If you frequently respond to your cat scratching at a mirror, she may learn that this is how she gets your attention.
Why Do Cats Ignore Mirrors?
When a cat’s eyes are functioning properly, it can see its own reflection. Just because cats don’t respond to seeing their reflection doesn’t mean they do so consciously.
Cats have different personalities, and some are calmer or more aloof than others.
If the cat determines that the reflection is not a threat, it will not care about the movement it sees. This may be the reason why your cat completely ignores a mirror.
Why Do Cats Become Aggressive When They Look in a Mirror?
This is the most common reaction. Some cats are not used to seeing their own reflection, and this can be confusing.
Your cat may recognize that she is seeing another cat, but she relies heavily on scent to identify other animals. Therefore, she may become aggressive if she encounters a cat that has no scent.
To make matters worse, cats can tell their intentions by eye contact. The cat might become frightened and immediately aggressive when she first sees her reflection.
Then, when she looks in the mirror, she sees a pair of angry eyes. This, of course, sets off alarm bells in the cat and leads to hostility.
If your cat becomes aggressive when looking in the mirror, you can teach him not to be afraid.
You know that the mirror is harmless, but the cat doesn’t know it. Therefore, it becomes anxious and stressed every time it looks in the mirror.
To avoid your cat getting upset and frustrated, use toys, treats and affection to teach her to associate the mirror with positive encounters.