Tabby cat and its reflection, Spain.
(Picture Credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Why Do Cats Go Bonkers When They See Themselves In The Mirror?

Anyone who loves cats has probably witnessed the “cat in a mirror” phenomenon.

The first time a cat catches a glimpse of themselves in the mirror, they usually go absolutely bonkers! They’ll puff themselves up really big, walk on their tiptoes, and maybe even try to attack their own reflection.

Of course, some felines couldn’t care less about mirrors. If your furry friend is one of those cats, feel free to place mirrors around your home wherever you please.

But just why do most cats go so bananas when they see their reflection? Here’s what you should know about their strange reaction.

Cats Aren’t The Only Animals That React To Their Reflection

Although it seems like we commonly hear about cats reacting the most violently to their reflections, other animals do it too.

Dogs, birds, and even reptiles like lizards may react like wild animals when they catch their own reflections, either trying to play with their reflections or attack them.

Cats, it may seem, just have the most consistently violent reactions to seeing themselves.

Cats Don’t Recognize Themselves

Here’s the deal — cats don’t recognize themselves when they look in a mirror.

When they see their reflections, they think they’re seeing another cat. Because cats tend to be territorial, they may react by puffing themselves up and trying to defend their territory from the new intruder.

So why do cats eventually give up and stop attacking their own reflections?

Cats don’t rely primarily on their vision when it comes to identifying other animals. They rely more on their sense of smell to identify other cats. That’s why when you bring a cat home from the vet, the other cats in your house might not recognize them at first.

This concept works similarly with mirror reflections. A cat will eventually realize that the reflection they’re attacking doesn’t have a scent, so they’ll figure out that they can just ignore the reflection because it doesn’t pose a threat.

Self-Awareness: The Mirror Test

Many psychologists and experts use the “mirror test” as a way to determine if an animal is self-aware to the level that humans are. This essentially involves testing whether an animal recognizes their reflection in the mirror as being their own.

Elephants, dolphins, orcas, and European magpies have passed the reflection test. Pigs haven’t passed it, but they can use their reflection to locate food that’s placed behind them.

However, the mirror test may have some flaws. As we talked about above, cats and other animals use different senses besides vision for identification. So the mirror test might simply not be the right type of test.

Even humans don’t pass the mirror test until they’re around 18 months old. And in some cultures that aren’t raised around mirrors, a child might not recognize their reflection in the mirror at all.

Large Cats Do the Same Thing!

Domestic cats aren’t the only felines to go nuts when they see their reflections in a mirror. Big, wild cats do the same thing!

The reason is exactly the same as it is for their smaller domestic cousins: they momentarily think there’s a competitor in their personal space.

The next time you see a cat acting wild about their reflection in a mirror, don’t be concerned. They might try to attack their reflection for a little while, but before too long, they’ll realize the reflection is not a threat and calm down.

If you have your phone handy, you might want to record the “mirror fight” while you watch!

How does your cat react to seeing their reflection in the mirror? Do they go wild? Let us know in the comments below!

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