Why are cats afraid of cucumbers?

Everyone is familiar with the viral hit of cats versus cucumbers. A few innocuous laughs were had as we watched cats flip out over cucumbers. As we’ve seen, a cucumber is placed behind a cat focused on their meal. Once they are finished, they turn around and react wildly to the sighting of the cucumber. The cat leaps back high into the air and howls in horror. More daring cats will later pause to inspect the object from a distance to find no immediate threat.

Some cats don’t react to the cucumber while the majority act as if they’ve seen Freddy Krueger’s face. It’s hilarious to watch but the phenomenon hasn’t been explained fully. The patterns displayed in these clips piqued a common public curiosity: why are cats afraid of cucumbers? This very question has led some to seek the input of experts.

Despite the large amount of interest, no formal scientific research has been carried out yet. But, we do have some potential theories on why cats are afraid of cucumbers. Let’s turn it over to the experts to figure out why.

What do the experts have to say?

One theory is that the cucumbers green hue can be mistaken as a snake. As we know, snakes are a deadly predator and are similar in shape to a cucumber and color. This doesn’t explain the entire story as snakes come in diverse patterns and colors.

Dr. Roger Mugford, an animal specialist, suspects a more sound theory that any threat can elicit the same response. For example, a model spider, human, or snake would cause the cat to react. Even us humans are cautious of sudden movements and loud sounds. It comes right down to our primal instinct to survive. Anyone would go on the defense when faced with the unexpected. Why are cats afraid of cucumbers? Well, why are you afraid of things that go bump in the night?

Pam Johnson-Bennet, author of Think Like a Cat, alludes to why the fear and confusion are exaggerated. This is due to cats associating safety and security with their eating area. It is normal to expect dangerous encounters in the outside world, but not within the comfort of our home. Cats simply do not know to react when an enemy shows up to the front door. So, they panic and create the comedic humor scene we all love to see.

Cats experience trauma and its effects just like humans

Although seeing a cat react is funny, it can cause harm to the animal. Even certified animal behaviorist Jill Goldman believes it’s cruel to do for laughs. Shock or fear prompted by surprise is funny in mild cases with human subjects because they are able to analyze the stunt and laugh at themselves in retrospect. Cats, on the other hand, do not fathom what is happening or why.

Instant damage can be caused by the initial, fear induced response. When the cat instinctively jumps or jolts, they could break something, injure themselves, or both. Further long-term damage can also be done to our precious feline friends. Cats feel some degree of natural stress throughout a normal day, as humans do, but stressful situations can alter the remainder of their nine lives.

In line with Pavlov’s classical conditioning, the reactions and general behavior of the cat can drastically change for the worse. Whether the cruel joke takes place once or multiple times, changes in behavior include avoiding their food bowl because they’ve associated meal time with terror. This in itself creates more health problems. Other behavioral risks include developing fear or hostility towards cucumbers. In some cases, this fear or hostility will also be redirected towards objects with similar traits of a cucumber. The fear or hostility can also be redirected toward people and events they associated with the stressful event.

Along with the inured behaviors toward certain objects will come long term damage to mental health. The cat will become more prone to harsh anxiety, depression, social detachment, aggression, and lack of focus. One physical side effect of these ailments can include attempts at escape in which they inflict physical harm on themselves in the process. Other physical side effects include lesions caused by too much licking and biting and involuntary “wetting.”

Ultimately, be a decent person and extend the golden rule to all animals, not just people; don’t be the answer to the question: why are cats afraid of cucumbers?  We as human owners want to maintain the fun, loving relationship with our furry friends. Using them as a comedic prop can sever that bond.

Why isn’t there more research on cat behaviors?

Compared to dogs, there is a huge void in the animal behavior and cognition research on feline subjects. From 1998-2009 the leading journal in animal behaviors, Animal Cognition, had only published 3 articles about cat cognition. This is less than the number of research articles published on cuttlefish.

It is possible that the lower social interest in cats compared to dogs and humans can account for the lack of cognitive research. Also, dogs have been domesticated longer than cats by about 5,000 years. This allows us a greater pre-existing knowledge of them. Cats are viewed as being “independent” creatures. This makes them more difficult subjects in social cognition research.

True to their sovereign nature, cats housebroke themselves by accident hunting for food. This is why they are more likely to employ unique problem-solving skills rather than mimic humans, as dogs are known to do. It is known that their communicative abilities are more advanced than that of dogs. They possess a depth of communication “tools” that endure despite selective breeding.

These qualities should produce more sensational results than that of animals with similar social habits of humans. The unknown can be scary sometimes, but when a lesson can be learned it’s worth facing. Surely it is only a matter of time before scholars brave the field of cognitive research into the detached, loner cat. Unless they develop the ability to learn human languages and speak with us directly, or vice versa, science is our only hope to solve the arduous mystery: why are cats afraid of cucumbers?


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