Animal behavior experts explain why cats seem to fear cukes.
The Internet loves scaring cats with cucumbers — or, at least, watching videos of other people scaring cats with cucumbers.
The videos show people placing cucumbers behind unsuspecting cats that are usually eating food out of a bowl. The cats then turn around and jump into the air when they spot the fruit (yes, cucumbers are technically fruit).
It’s easy to understand why people find this so hilarious. (Seriously, there’s an entire subreddit called “Cucumbers Scaring Cats,” and HuffPost’s mashup alone has been viewed more than 75 million times.) The thought of any creature being this startled by an object as innocuous as a cucumber is patently ridiculous. But cat behavior experts say frightening your feline on purpose is a bad idea.
“If you cause stress to an animal that’s probably not a good thing,” certified animal behaviorist Jill Goldman told National Geographic. “If you do it for laughs it makes me question your humanity.”
The sudden, unexpected presence of a new object in a cat’s space can trigger the animal’s startled response, causing the extreme reactions captured in the videos, Goldman explained.
Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant, told The Huffington Post that “cats vs. cucumber” videos make her uncomfortable.
“This veers into ‘humans doing things just to freak out their cats and film them for the internet’ territory, which I don’t feel benefits most cats,” Delgado wrote in an email.
Why are cats so terrified of the seemingly inoffensive cucumber? Nobody knows for sure, but most behavior experts suspect it’s less about fear, and more about the element of surprise.
“I’m not sure it’s an inherent fear of the shape of the object,” Delgado said. “It may be that these particular cats are fearful of new objects in general or were startled by the unexpected presence of an object.”
Most of the cats in the videos are eating, which increases the chances that a new object will startle them. Cats associate the place they eat with security and safety, Think Like a Cat author Pam Johnson-Bennett told National Geographic.
Animal behavior specialist Roger Mugford offered a similar analysis.
“I think that the reaction is due to the novelty and unexpectedness of finding an unusual object secretly placed whilst their heads were down in the food bowl,” he told The Telegraph.
Some experts have hypothesized that a cucumber’s shape and color might be particularly frightening because they remind cats of snakes, but Delgado is skeptical of that theory, noting that some cats hunt snakes. She wasn’t sure if cats would react similarly to other objects, but said she doesn’t recommend testing it out.
Contact the author at Hilary.Han[email protected]