Cats Vs. Cucumbers

Maria H. writes in with this perplexing question:  Why are cats afraid of cucumbers?

You've seen them--the videos of people scaring their cats with cucumbers.  A human places a cucumber behind their cat, usually when the cat is eating, so that when the cat turns around, the cucumber has magically  appeared.  This inevitably sends the cat sky-high and lots of people find it funny.  We here at the Kitty Help Desk, do not.

Cats are a species that is both predator and prey in the wild.  That means they're at their most vulnerable when they're eating and using the litter box.  These are the times when they need to feel safest.  When a cat settles in to chow down, he or she has decided that they are as safe as they can be.  They've been especially diligent in checking out the area and they feel nothing unusual is there to threaten them.  Then the cucumber shows up.

It's not that cats are afraid of cucumbers, per se, but that they're startled when their post-meal serenity is crushed by the unexpected intrusion of the vegetable.  The cucumber could be any object that the cat isn't familiar with.  If the first video had involved a pair of barbecue tongs, then we'd be seeing a scourge of cats being frightened by tongs.  Instead, the absurdity of the cucumber fueled the humor to such a degree that poor cats are being startled by veggies the world over.

Why is this bad?  It's bad because it breaks down your cat's sense of security.  Your house is her territory and over time she's learned to believe that nothing awful will happen to her there, with the occasional exception of being hauled off to the vet.  By frightening your cat, you get a good laugh, but your cat's heart rate increases and she gets a huge adrenaline spike as part of her fight or flight response.  Hair follicles are shed and the cat will do anything to get away.  You're breaking down her trust and making her think she's vulnerable in her own home.  If you keep it up, you'll not only make her neurotic, you may even teach her to distrust you.  Do us all a favor and keep the vegetables in the crisper where they belong.