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HOME Meowing Questions Why Do Cats Ignore Mirrors?

Why Do Cats Ignore Mirrors?

Knowing how vain and conceited cats can tend to behave, you’d think that staring in the mirror would consume a large part of their day. But they don’t. Why do cats wind up ignoring themselves in the mirror?

Cats ignore mirrors because the lack of scent emitting from things a cat sees in a reflection can either immediately cause it to lose interest, be confused and fearful, or somewhat aggressive. 

If a cat is confused or threatened by what it sees in a mirror, the remedy is simple- ignore it and the threat goes away. If the cat is confused, it will investigate at first but eventually lose interest as it can’t gain any new clues to perk its interest.

A cat might ignore mirrors after its initial introduction to one because regardless of what it can see, it smells like a piece of furniture. Because it smells like a piece of furniture or an otherwise uninteresting object, the cat will treat it like one.

Cats are Not Visibly Self Aware

cat looking in a circular mirror

Not being visibly self-aware means that the cat will not recognize itself in a reflection. In fact, there are only a few animal species that we know about that are self-aware in this way, and cats aren’t on that list.

If you put a cat in front of a mirror, the cat it can see, as far as the cat is concerned, is not itself. If the cat takes the reflection seriously at all, it will see the cat staring back at it as a potential threat or at least a feline intruder.

Even if you tried to make it painfully obvious, like putting a little outfit on your cat. It will look at the mirror and wonder why the other guy is wearing a humiliating outfit. The neural process to occur that it’s looking at itself isn’t present.

Because of this, we are treated to all kinds of different initial reactions, that at times can be pretty funny. Inevitably though, the cat will lose interest and stop caring about that other guy that stares at it all the time and move on with its life.

Some Cats Attack Mirrors

All cats are different, which explains the variety of reactions we’ll get when it comes to mirrors. Not all cats are curious, nervous, or indifferent when looking in the mirror.

Some can react violently, whapping, growling, or hissing at the mirror, trying to get its paws on the angry cat intruding on its turf. These kinds of responses typically wind up with the cat bolting away from the mirror due to having met its match.

But because of the lack of any real harm done, and it appears to be less and less threatening over time, the cat will leave it alone and allowing bygones to be bygones.

A Window to Another World

cat pawing its reflection

Some cats might appear to be attacking a mirror violently, but not in a way that it’s being aggressive to its reflection. Actions like bashing into it or standing on its hind legs while rapidly pawing or scratching at it aren’t necessarily an attack.

When a cat is doing this, it could be that it’s trying to get into the room it can see on the other side. If you’ve ever had a room that you want to keep the cat out of, you know how adamant they can be about trying to get in.

If the cat considers the room’s reflection to be another unexplored room, it will spend all kinds of time trying to figure out how to get in there. If a cat is stubborn enough, the frame to a mirror may suffer from the cat’s struggle to break in, or eventual scratches can develop in the mirror.

No Scent to Care About

cat ignoring its reflection

Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. It’s among their greater senses, and in many cases, they’ll trust their nose well before they’ll believe what they’re seeing.

If they see your reflection in a mirror, they’ll not recognize it’s you due to a lack of scent. This can also be displayed when a cat sees someone through a closed window.

Your Cat in a Window

cat looking out of the glass window

Cat’s love sitting in window sills. They get to watch all of the interesting things that go on in the world. But if you were to go outside and approach them while they sit opposite a closed window, you might not get the reaction you’d expect.

The same cat who shows you undying affection in the house might tear away from the window in fear when it sees you on the other side of that window. Or, depending on the nature of the particular cat, it might become super interested, sniffing as hard as it can while rubbing all over the window.

Cats who rely more on their sight would respond more normally than a cat who relies more on their sense of smell. The lack of an expected smell can freak a cat out, leaving it to wonder if the person who’s on the other side of the window is a friend or foe.

A Sharp Drop Off in Interest

cat with green eyes ignoring its reflection

The many different responses and the inevitable lack of interest develops due to the confusion the lack of scent creates. The same lack of scent that might create initial responses will quickly wind up with the cat ignoring the mirror completely.

After the awe, dread, confusion, anger, or curiosity has subsided, the only time a cat might interact with a mirror is if it sees something moving and wants to attempt to grab it. Similar to how they may interact with a television or computer monitor.

Otherwise, as stated above, the mirror becomes just another piece of furniture, no more special than a couch, seat, or bureau. The consistent lack of action on behalf of the mirror will promote a lack of reaction by the cat.

Final Thoughts

cat looking away from its reflection

It’s not that cats always ignore mirrors, but rather that they completely lose interest. This is particularly true with matured cats.

Strange, humorous, and heartwarming things that make up a cat’s behavior are easier to understand when their limitations are understood. Their lack of being self-aware in a visual sense helps to explain a good portion of their interactions with a mirror.

Their impressive sense of smell can also be key to understanding much of their behavior with mirrors, as well as a host of other strange and questionable habits. Throw some good old-fashioned curiosity in the mix and we wind up with a display of short-lived reactions that will be easily forgettable by the cat.