If you own a cat and mirrors, you may have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Your cat sees their reflection in the mirror. Perhaps they are curious or interested. Perhaps they seem angry, or even act violently, attempting to attack their reflection. 

These behaviors suggest that cats are seeing something in the mirror, but what? Are they recognizing themselves? 

Can cats recognize themselves in the mirror?

No, your cat doesn’t recognize themselves in the mirror. They aren’t checking out their fur to see if hairs are out of place. However, they do see the cat in the mirror. This can cause some interesting reactions. 

The Mirror Test

The mirror test has long been seen as the gold standard for determining self awareness. It’s been performed on numerous animals, including humans. Orcas, elephants, and even magpies are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Most other animals, including dogs and reptiles, don’t. 

Humans can recognize themselves in the mirror at about 18 months old. This is thought to be when they realize that they are separate from the rest of the world. They are self aware, and recognize themselves as an individual. 

There’s lots of debate about whether or not the mirror test is really valid. The animal is shown a mirror and given a chance to get comfortable with it. Then, a mark is placed on their body, so it is only visible with the mirror. 

If the animal reacts in a way that suggests they see the dot, and know it’s on their body, they pass the mirror test. 

The scientific community was recently shaken when a coral reef fish passed the test. This must have one of two impacts. One possibility is that the mirror test isn’t an accurate reflection (see what I did there?) of an animal’s self awareness. The other possibility is that fish have a higher cognitive functioning ability than previously thought. 

When it comes to cats, like their canine counterparts, they fail the mirror test. However, some argue that the test is unfair for these animals. Both possess sight, and can see their reflection. However, they also rely heavily on their sense of smell. They may fail the mirror test simply because it doesn’t give off a smell. 

Imagine how you would feel if two of your senses gave you very different messages. For example, you look at a rock. You expect it to be heavy, hard, and cold when you touch it. What if it felt like a soft coat instead? You would be confused, and potentially even scared by the mixed signals. Perhaps this is why cats fail the mirror test. They see a cat, but can’t smell it. 

What does it mean when a cat stares at the mirror?

We know your cat isn’t staring at the mirror because they recognize themselves. So why do they find it fascinating? What do they think when they look into the mirror? 

What Your Cat Thinks When Looking in the Mirror

The first thing your cat is likely to think when they look in the mirror is, “hey, there’s a new cat here”. Depending on the cat, this can be good or bad. 

Some cats will attempt to play with the cat in the mirror. They may meow at it, reach out a paw, or even run, hoping the cat will chase them. These cats typically get quickly disappointed when the reflection doesn’t actually interact with them. 

Other cats are territorial. For them, it can be upsetting to see a cat in the mirror. They may puff themselves up, hiss, or try to attack the other cat. They don’t want this intruder in their space. Again, once the cat in the mirror doesn’t interact, they may quickly lose interest. 

Motion

Cats are highly focused on motion. This is because they are natural predators. Their prey is small animals, like mice. These animals have fast movements. Cats are designed to pick up on these movements, and focus on them. 

Cats also focus on motion as a survival instinct. They have many natural predators in the wild. Some predators will chase or ambush their prey, moving quickly. Others stalk their prey, moving very slowly and fluidly, like cats do. 

If there’s movement in the mirror, the cat will instinctively notice it. It’s natural for them to focus on this movement, and try to determine what is causing it. They also want to know where the movement is coming from. .

The movement may be something you didn’t notice, but your cat will. This can lead them to stare at the mirror. They are trying to determine if there’s a predator or prey in the mirror.  

Are mirrors stressful for cats?

Mirrors can be stressful for cats. It really depends on the cat, and the reaction they have to the mirror. 

Most Cats Don’t Mind

Most cats quickly determine that the mirror isn’t a threat. This may be because the reflection doesn’t interact with them physically, or because it has no smell. For these cats, mirrors aren’t stressful. They pay little to no attention to them. At best, they are just a fixture within the home, just like your coffee table. 

 Cats Can Be Scared or Provoked By Mirrors

Most cats are fine with mirrors, but not all of them are. Cats or kittens who have never seen a mirror are more likely to react negatively to it. For  these cats, mirrors are stressful.

In some cases, a cat is fine with the mirror until they have a negative experience. This can occur when looking into the mirror, like being startled by a loud noise. It can also occur because they had an encounter with another cat. When they see the cat in the mirror, they may think it’s their problem cat. 

Signs your cat is stressed by the mirror include hissing, pawing at the mirror, pouncing, and running away. 

Getting Your Cat Comfortable With Mirrors

Many owners find that they simply need to wait it out. Over time, the cat discovers the mirror is harmless. You may also try offering your cat a toy or food when they are near the mirror. This can create a positive association, which will help your cat feel better about the mirror. 

If your cat is very stressed out, you may need to cover or remove your mirrors. This is particularly important for mirrors at the cat’s level, where they are most likely to see it. 

Don’t get rid of the mirrors forever. Instead, reintroduce them slowly. This may require uncovering a mirror for a few minutes at a time, and then recovering. Give your cat treats or kibble while the mirror is uncovered. Eventually, they may come to like the mirror. At the least, they should eventually become comfortable with them. 

Pheremones can be helpful as well. Spray them around the mirror to help your cat stay calm when interacting with the mirror. 

Can cats see-through windows?

If you’ve ever seen your cat relaxing in front of a window, you may be wondering why. Can they see through the window? What are they looking at? Are they contemplating the futility of life, or simply basking in the sun? 

One study found that 84% of cats spend at least 5 hours each day staring out a window. Cats sleep 12-16 hours a day. This means about half of their waking hours is spent staring through the glass of a window. But why? 

What Are Cats Watching Through the Window? 

Studies have revealed a cat’s three favorite things to observe from the comfort of the windowsill. These are small animals like squirrels, birds, and foliage. Other things that captivate a kitty attention include other cats, humans, and vehicles. 

Why do cats spend so much time watching these three things? It provides them with environmental stimulation. Cats need environmental stimulation to be happy and healthy. They are still closely related to their wild counterparts. It’s no surprise they crave interaction with the outside world. 

They observe potential prey. Perhaps they even think about how they would catch it. This is similar to a human watching a horror movie. You can’t help but think about what you would do in that situation. Your cat is doing the same when they see their prey, from the opposite end of the spectrum. 

It’s also simply interesting for them to watch the goings on. Ever sit on your porch and just observe your neighbors? You can find hours of entertainment in an active neighborhood. Your cat does the same watching their fellow animals. 

Lastly, cats love watching foliage and the weather. They are not much different from us in this regard. Studies have shown that the ability to see outside makes us happier and reduces stress. Perhaps it does the same for your cat. 

Standing Guard

The other reason your cat is fascinated by a window view is that they are protecting themselves and their territory. Cats are naturally territorial. They will share their territory with other cats in the wild to an extent. 

Each cat will have its own home base. This is where it sleeps and spends the majority of its time. Several cats will share other areas of territory. Essentially, they time share. One cat will have an area at a certain time. At another time, another cat will use the area. This allows cats to share territory with minimal interaction. 

To your cat, your home is its territory. It’s normal for them to guard their territory from other cats. So they will watch out the window to make sure there are no intruders. 

They also do this to watch for predators. Sure, your cat is safe from predators within your home. However, your cat’s natural instincts will still prompt them to watch for predators. It’s how they survive in the wild. 

Do Cats Understand Windows? 

Cats don’t have the same understanding of windows that we do. They may learn that the window is a barrier through trial and error. However, this awareness may never completely sink in. If you’ve ever observed your cat trying to get something through the glass, you have seen this for yourself. 

Cats can see through windows, but they can’t see the windows themselves. Our eyes have lots more cones than the eyes of cats. This allows us to see more colors, and variations in colors. 

Cats’ eyes have more rods, which allow them to see in the dark. Rods gather light and magnify it, which acts like turning on a flashlight in a dark room. 

When we look at a window, we can see the window. We can see a reflection, or variations in color. We can easily observe dirt or smudges on the windows as well. This prevents us from walking into a glass door, most of the time. 

Because a cat’s eyes are dominated by rods, they cannot see these things. This is why a cat will sometimes walk into a door or window. Eventually, they may learn there’s something there. However, if they are scared or excited, they can easily forget. 

Think about interacting with a force field. You would quickly learn a barrier is present. However, without a visual cue, it’s easy to forget that it’s there, and difficult to know exactly where it is. This is how your cat interacts with windows and glass. 

Can Cats See Through Tinted or Frosted Glass? 

Cats’ rod dominance essentially makes them color blind. Researchers have determined that cats can’t differentiate between yellow, green, red, and white. They aren’t likely to be able to see through tinted glass, because of this. 

They may be able to see outlines, but they will not have clear vision the way humans do. The colors may be muddled, hard to see, or impossible for your cat to differentiate. Without color contrast, it’s very hard to see things. 

It’s believed this is also true for frosted glass. There have been no studies to determine if cats can see through frosted glass, but it’s unlikely that they can. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.