Cats are scared of cucumbers because it’s their natural reaction to anything that sneaks up on them without making any noise. Cats tend to be scared or wary of the unknown,
The internet is a bizarre place. If you take the time, 5 hours or so, you’ll get sucked into the powerful Charybdis like whirlpool of internet content. On one such day, I time travelled from toddlers tasting lemons for the first time to watching cats getting scared out of their living daylights. In the video, cats of different types were recorded leaping in the air out of sheer shock and fear upon seeing a cucumber. Yes, just your average, green cucumber!
Naturally, one must question the scientific verity of anything online. As it turns out, the fear the cats show is definitely real, but the threat – the cucumber, isn’t what’s causing them distress. This mean spirited trick on our beloved cats doesn’t show the cat’s fear of a benign fruit (the correct classification for the cucumber). It has more to do with the nature of the prank and the resemblance to a slithering friend.
Cats may associate cucumbers with snakes
The cucumber looks a lot a common cat threat – the snake, predators that are known to attack and even eat cats. This resemblance to something threatening can be alarming for a cat.
According to Jill Goldman, a certified animal behaviorist in Southern California, cucumbers may seem like snakes to cats, thanks to the green, elongated exterior that these vegetables have.
Cats are scared of things sneaking up on them
As it turns out, it’s not the cucumber placed surreptitiously behind a cat, but pretty much anything that sneaks up on a cat could potentially terrify it. Cats are sharp and alert animals and as such, they always keep their guard up and have good situational awareness.
If you have seen such videos of cats getting scared of cucumbers, you might have noticed that cucumbers are deliberately put behind cats when they are peacefully enjoying a meal with their heads buried in their food bowl.
Cats only eat when they are sure that they are not immediately threatened by anything/anyone in the vicinity; in other words, cats associate their ‘food stations’ as areas where they are perfectly safe and secure.
As such, when a cat spots a green cucumber lying on the floor behind them, it freaks the cat out because the cat didn’t expect it to be there.
“I think that the reaction is due to the novelty and unexpectedness of finding an unusual object secretly placed while their heads were down in the food bowl,” says Dr Roger Mugford, an animal behavior specialist. Cats wouldn’t normally find cucumbers lying on the floor, so the sheer novelty of the whole thing freaks them out.
Startle response of cats
Unknown objects that might look threatening initiate the cat’s “startle responses”. The jumping, increase in heart rate and aggressive response is how the cat responds to a surprise. Upon experiencing the stimuli, the cat’s muscles stiffen and it arches its back. The cat’s heart rate increases and its fear response is heightened.
Such responses aren’t limited to cats. Humans and other animals also respond similarly to unexpected surprises. You’ve probably jumped or screamed at the sound of a sudden loud noise, you’re heart-rate increases and you’re jittery for the next minute or so.
After the sudden stimulus has passed, it takes a while to return to normal, the heart beat to steady as well as hormone levels such as adrenaline to normalise.
This arc involves the brain stem, the lowermost part of the brain connecting to the spinal cord, parts of the limbic system involved in sensing fear and threats, and the hypothalamus and associated pituitary gland which release hormones such as adrenaline that cause many of the physiological changes in the body.
Why you shouldn’t scare cats with cucumbers
Seeing a cat jump in the air out of sheer fright might make you laugh real hard, but it’s not actually amusing, least of all to the cat.
As mentioned earlier, cats get really scared by the sudden appearance of a green invader makes them want to get away as soon as they can (hence the leap in the air). In a bid to get away, a cat may break something, hurt others in the vicinity or even injure itself. It may also lead to prolonged stress for the cat.
Research on the effects of inducing the startle response on rodents and humans have shown that repeated “surprises” can induce anxiety and sustained stress. This can also be applied to cats and many other mammals. Sustained anxiety and stress can reduce the overall well-being of your pet and impairing their immune system making them more susceptible to diseases.
Trying to scare a cat like this is not just wrong, but quite cruel. Instead of shoving a new toy or a cucumber at them, try to gradually introduce it to your cat. Repeated exposure will, eventually, make the cat comfortable with the cucumber or whatever else. They get habituated to the object, as a neuroscientist might say.
Soon, they’ll be able to differentiate that a cucumber isn’t a snake and just a harmless edible cylinder.