It's no secret that cats are just plain weird. Then again, that's one reason why we love them so much. As a proud mom of four sassy furballs, I've witnessed a lot of kitty quirks — from prolonged staring to blanket sucking. Their strange behaviours can entertain us for hours, leaving us wondering why they do the things they do.
One feline behaviour that often leaves cat owners curious is mirror scratching. While it happens infrequently, cats that compulsively scratch at a mirror or reflective surface can wake up their owners in the middle of the night, said Michelle Burch, DVM, a veterinary writer and adviser for Catological. To help us figure out why exactly our kitty counterparts like to scratch mirrors and how to prevent our sassy furballs from mirror scratching, POPSUGAR turned to three vets to explain this feline behaviour.
Why Does My Cat Scratch The Mirror?
Cats scratch the mirror for a couple of main reasons. First and foremost, cats will scratch at mirrors because they are naturally curious creatures, Megan McCorkel, DVM, a veterinary writer and adviser for Better With Cats, told POPSUGAR. She explained that "scratching or pawing at something is a reliable way for your cat to learn more about an object." So, between cats' natural curiosity and unique properties of mirrors, it's no surprise that your feline would scratch the mirror as he is trying to understand more about the mirror and how it works.
The second reason has to do with attention seeking behaviour, Dr. McCorkel said. Your cat's simple curiosity could easily turn into a fun game to play with you. "If you give your cat attention every time they scratch at the mirror your cat will quickly learn that the mirror can actually be a good source of attention," she explained. All your cat has to do is scratch and he will receive attention from his owner.
The final reason has to do with the reflection, Dr. Burch said. Some cats may not recognise their own reflection; therefore, will think the reflection is another cat. In some instances, she noted, cats may view their reflection as an intruder. "Consequently, your cat will defend his territory by scratching at the trespasser," she added.
Is It Dangerous for My Cat to Scratch Mirrors?
In most situations, mirror scratching is not a dangerous behaviour. In fact, cats can outgrow the behaviour as they get older, said Del Anderson, DVM, a veterinarian from Woodstock, Georgia. Over time, they can become accustomed to seeing their reflection, causing them to not be as bothered by it.
That said, there are still some safety concerns. One of the biggest dangers is the potential risk of the mirror tipping over, Dr. Anderson said. Depending on how the mirror is positioned, your cat could knock over the mirror, causing harm to himself and damage to the house. It is also possible for your cat to get hurt if he is aggressively scratching the mirror. "Cats' nails aren't designed to cut glass so there is a risk they could crack or break a nail if the scratching is excessive," he added.
Moreover, in some cases, Dr. Burch explained, mirrors can become an ongoing source of anxiety or aggression, especially if your cat continues to perceive his reflection as a threat. In rare cases, your cat could develop a compulsive disorder, causing your kitty to attack any reflective surface with aggressive behaviours.
How Can I Stop My Cat From Scratching Mirrors?
There are several steps you can take to stop your cat from scratching the mirror. Dr. Anderson suggests adding enrichment to the environment to stimulate your kitty. He referenced cat trees, food puzzles, and treat-dispensing toys as great ways to feed your cat's curiosity.
A second strategy is detering the behaviour, Dr. McCorkel said. This can be done by spraying your cat with plain water whenever he starts scratching the mirror. Pretty quickly, she explained, your cat will associate the mirror with being sprayed, causing him to move on to other things to explore. "You can also discourage your cat from going near your mirrors by placing double sided tape or sandpaper in front of the mirror where your cat would stand in order to scratch," she advised.
A final strategy is covering your mirrors so that your kitty doesn't see his reflection, Dr. Burch said. Then, after some time, you can reintroduce them to your sassy furball by uncovering one mirror at a time.
Unfortunately, in some severe cases with mirror scratching, your kitty may require anti-anxiety medication, Dr. Burch added. If the behaviour persists and you become concerned about your feline, you should contact your veterinarian team as they can perform bloodwork and further diagnostics or personally recommend an animal behaviourist to work with.