Can cats recognize their own reflections?
Knowing how fastidious cats are, we're sure they would be delighted if they could check themselves out in the mirror.
Sadly research suggests that cats can't recognize their own reflections. Whether your cat stares lovingly, acts spooked, or tries to play with the image staring back at him, experts say he is simply reacting to what he thinks is another cat.
While there haven't been any scientific studies into whether cats recognize themselves in the mirror, biologists say there are not many animals (apart from a few mammals such as primates, dolphins and a few birds from the crow family) that do because of a lack of self awareness.
However, pet behaviour expert Dr John Bradshaw says most cats quickly learn that a reflection isn’t a real cat and then ignore it. He explains: "A cat's vision doesn't work in quite the same way as ours does and results in reflections not looking as realistic to them as they do to us; they can see right through semi-reflective coated glass that looks like a mirror to us. Also, vision isn't the cat’s dominant sense. Instead, they rely on smell much more than we do. If they can see something close by, but it doesn't smell of anything and also makes no sound, they quickly learn to ignore it."
Can cats see themselves in the mirror?
A study in which cats reacted to paper silhouette cut-outs seems to back this theory. It showed that cats are more likely to approach a 2D silhouette of a cat with its tail up (known to be a friendly greeting signal) than one with its tail in a horizontal position — suggesting they think it's a real cat. John says: "The silhouettes only fooled the cats once; few reacted at all when we showed them a different silhouette the next day — probably because the cut-outs didn’t smell like a cat.
"We also tried mirrors; many cats didn't react to their reflections at all. Those that did were mostly frightened — hissing, raising the fur on their backs etc — as if they'd suddenly come across another cat. We didn’t test any kittens, but I’ve seen kittens attempt to play with their reflections."
Bearing all of this in mind, it makes sense that a cat's reaction when looking in a mirror will depend on his view of other cats. Behaviourist Sarah Ellis says: "For those cats who are comfortable and confident around other cats, they may feel no need to direct their attention to the 'new' cat in their environment. Kittens, and especially playful and friendly cats, may view the image as a cat to play with while those who are less socialized to other cats may view this 'new' at as a potential threat."
So if you want to give your cat an ego boost you’ll just have to tell him how handsome he is. Whether he’ll understand you or not is a whole different story!