We’ve all seen the videos by now. A cat is innocently enjoying a game, a nap or a dish of food, only to be startled by the appearance of a cucumber. The effects can be quite dramatic, with the unfortunate kitty leaping into the air and responding with every appearance of terror. People find these videos and photos very amusing: the cucumber is harmless and the cat’s reaction is so dramatic and out of proportion. It’s not just cucumbers, either: cats have been captured showing suspicion or fear when confronted with bananas, courgettes and even sections cut from a garden hose.
Why cats are afraid of cucumbers? Not all cats are afraid of cucumbers but some certainly are. There are a number of theories as to why, ranging from an atavistic fear of snakes to a combination of the cat’s visual field and attention. The exact reason is not known, however.
If you’ve arrived on this page, you probably have a number of questions. Maybe you’ve seen footage of cats apparently terrified of cucumbers. Perhaps your own cat has a fear response when confronted with cucumbers and similar objects. You might even be thinking of making your own cat-and-cucumber video and want to know if it’s safe.
- Are all cats scared of cucumbers?
- Are cucumbers dangerous to cats?
- Can you harm a cat by frightening her with a cucumber?
Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. We have the answers you’re looking for — just read on to find out everything you want to know.
Why cats are afraid of cucumbers?
To start with, not all cats are afraid of cucumbers. Some of them may only be frightened if they’re surprised by a cucumber or similar object, while others aren’t afraid at all. A cat presented with a cucumber may respond with shock, fear, suspicion or complete disinterest. She might be unconcerned in one context but terrified in another.
Theories as to why a cat might be afraid of cucumbers abound. One popular theory relies on evolutionary psychology. The ancestors of the domestic cat were desert-dwelling felines, carnivorous and very good hunters but also small and vulnerable to larger predators. Snakes may have been a major threat to the ancestors of the modern cat; a fear of snakes would have been an adaptive trait. As the descendent of these early cats, the theory goes, today’s domestic cats may well have inherited an innate fear of snakes. As cucumbers and similarly shaped objects have a superficial resemblance to snakes, they trigger this inbuilt fear and cause the cat to respond as if she were facing an actual threat. Although it’s an interesting idea, this has not been proven and some cat experts dispute it. Like much evolutionary psychology, it’s an attractive theory but hard to actually demonstrate in practice.
Another theory holds that it’s not the cucumber that the cat is afraid of. In the videos we see where a cat responds with fear on finding a cucumber next to her food bowl, she may actually be responding to a new and unfamiliar item in a place she normally associates with comfort and security. In the videos where the cat is surprised by someone holding a cucumber, it may be the angle of approach and the suddenness of the object’s appearance. A cat has a rather narrow field of vision with the greatest acuity directly in front of her face. Thus, if someone approaches her from the side with an unknown object, she may be very startled.
This is particularly true if the cat is distracted, as when she’s eating. Many of these videos involve a cat who is happily engaged in demolishing a helping of cat food before being rudely interrupted with a vegetable. When eating, cats can become very focused on their food but are also rather twitchy about sudden moves nearby. This is understandable — anything entering a cat’s personal space while she’s eating could be a rival about to steal vital nutrition away from her. The sudden appearance of any object nearby could trigger a response in this context, whether it’s to jump away or to take a swat at the intruder. In this theory, it doesn’t have to be a snake-like item; anything would cause the cat to jump. It’s the action, rather than the cucumber, that causes the response people find so endlessly amusing.
Sometimes the cat startled with the cucumber is engaged in chasing a toy or playing with another cat. During these times, her energy is ramped up and all her senses are on high alert. Suddenly presenting her with an object she can’t understand will thus produce a more dramatic response than you might see during calmer moments.
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Are cucumbers dangerous to cats?
Another popular theory amongst some viewers of cat-and-cucumber videos is that cucumbers are especially toxic to cats and this is why cats fear them. We can lay this one to rest straight away. Firstly, cats do not seem unduly scared by any other toxic items, sometimes begging obsessively for foods which might sicked or outright kill them. A cat who screams for a bite of your garlic bread or who needs to be shooed away from a glass of wine or beer is clearly not unduly concerned about the toxicity of an item. If this were the case there would be less need to hide plastic shopping bags from the cat, or to leap out of bed at three in the morning to investigate suspicious chewing sounds.
Moreover, cucumbers are not actually poisonous to cats. They are one of the human foods that may not only be safe for a cat to consume but may actually confer a health benefit. Although there is nothing of any real nutritional value in a cucumber, they do contain something that cats often lack: water. Cats really aren’t great at staying properly hydrated. They don’t have a thirst response like some other animals and tend to ignore water in favour of food. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective — cats evolved to get their fluid from their prey, rather than water sources that might be contaminated — but it means they don’t always drink enough. Providing some chunks of cucumber for your cat to crunch may help her get the fluid she needs. Some cats also seem to really enjoy the texture of cucumber.
How can I make my own cat and cucumber videos?
The simple response here is that you shouldn’t. In many cases, it won’t work — the cat will ignore the cucumber or walk off in a huff because you’re bothering her, which doesn’t make for riveting viewing. Even if your cat happens to be one of the animals who shows an exaggerated startle response, you still shouldn’t make a video of her jumping away from a cucumber.
Although I’m certain that most of the owners making these videos love their pets and have only good intentions, it’s my opinion that cucumber videos are actually very cruel. People often argue that the activity is harmless because cucumbers don’t actually present a real threat. I would disagree quite strongly with this position. Cats experience a lot of stress when frightened in this way, even if the threat isn’t real. For this reason, if for no other, I would discourage frightening your cat on purpose.
It’s particularly bad to frighten a cat when she’s eating. A cat needs to be relaxed when she’s eating or her digestion may be affected. If the distressing event happens often enough during meals or she’s scared enough, you might actually deter her from eating at all. Cats are generally very food-motivated but if you subject them to aversive stimuli they can be put off their meals quite easily. They may start avoiding the room where their food dish is located, or not want to stay there long enough to finish their food. While missing one or two meals probably won’t do any lasting harm, cats can rapidly become ill if they don’t eat properly. In particular, they can develop a condition called fatty liver disease.
How can I stop my cat from being scared of cucumbers?
The fears and phobias of pets can seem funny and ridiculous to us but they can be a real source of anxiety and distress for the animals. Cats in particular seem prone to developing a fear of particular objects; this should not be treated as a joke or something to exploit. You might, therefore, be looking for a way to relieve your cat’s phobias so that she feels safer and more relaxed.
If your cat really is irrationally scared of cucumbers — or any other object — there’s no easy way to help her. Some people try to force cats to interact with the things that scare them in order to desensitise the animal. This is a very bad idea. You’re simply reinforcing the fear and causing the cat to associate it with you. Be patient and allow the cat to interact with the item on her own terms.
Similarly, you should not leave objects she’s scared of near her bowl. When you’re introducing a cat to a brand new item, such as a pair of nail clippers for her claws or a harness for walks, leaving it next to her bowl or in another location she enjoys spending time in is a good idea. This allows her to build up familiarity and pleasant associations with the object. If she’s already frightened of something, however, you should not do this. Leave the item in a more neutral location, one where she doesn’t need to go if she doesn’t want to. You can leave treats on or near the object to encourage interaction but you should not make basic nutrition contingent on facing down something that scares her.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.