- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
In 2015 pet parents took the internet by storm when they discovered that cats are scared of cucumbers (and other oblong produce like zucchini and bananas). Cats practically jumped out of their skin when the produce suddenly appeared, many times while the cats ate or unsuspectingly rounded a corner.
We love a good cat meme and hilarious videos of cats being—cats—as much as any other cat lover. But experts agree, the cucumber vs. cat prank just isn’t funny. While these videos might be funny, scaring your cat isn’t. Accidentally scaring your cat is one thing, but purposefully putting them in fear-inducing situations can lead to long-term consequences like anxiety.
So, what about cucumbers scares cats? There are many theories, including their dislike of surprises, their fear of snakes, their inability to see the cucumber, and their avoidance of unfamiliar things. Experts aren’t sure what theory is 100% correct, but we’ve dived into each one below.
Theory 1: Cats Don’t Like Surprises
One of the best theories is that cats hate cucumbers due to their adversity to surprises. Cats are the hunters (predators) and the hunted (prey) in the wild—they’re referred to as mesopredators. “Cats must always be aware of what is going on in their surroundings. They can’t afford to miss an opportunity to eat, but they must also be cautious of any dangers,” explains Dr. Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior expert and consultant at Feline Minds.
The reaction to an undetected predator can become more intense when a cat is in a vulnerable position, like when a cucumber is secretly placed while a cat is eating, drinking, or using the litter box.
Theory 2: Cats Are Scared Of Snakes
Another credible theory is our favorite felines are afraid of snakes (just like many humans!). Animals are hard-wired to recognize and respond to their natural predators, even if they’ve never encountered them before. So, the popular theory that cats are scared of cucumbers because they resemble a snake might be true.
Other experts argue that cats aren’t inherently scared of snakes. Given the chance, your natural-born predator might stalk, hunt, and even kill (and eat!) a snake. Perhaps, says Dr. Sarah McCormack, DVM, Northwest Neighborhood Veterinary Hospital, a cat’s fear of a snake depends on the snake’s width. “They couldn’t swallow a cucumber-width snake.”
Theory 3: Cats Can’t See The Cucumber
Cats don’t have perfect vision, bolstering the theory that cats are scared of cucumbers because they resemble snakes. Namely, cats have a lot of rods (light detectors), fewer cones than us (color detectors), and a shiny membrane called the tapetum lucidum (why your cat’s eyes glow).
The tapetum lucidum and more rods provide your dawn and dusk hunter with excellent night vision, but they significantly decrease your cat’s ability to see shapes during the day, explains Dr. McCormack. “This is why cats are very good at seeing rapidly moving objects and not as good at seeing objects that are still.” Suddenly spotting an unidentified blur right behind you or around the corner would startle anyone.
Theory 4: Cats Don’t Like Unfamiliar Things
Cats are naturally curious, but as they age, they’re less likely to react positively to new or novel things. They’re more likely to explore and interact with new objects between the ages of two and nine weeks, says Dr. Delgado. After this, cats become warier, and it takes them longer to form positive associations with new objects.
By the way, this differs in dogs who are said to have a strong preference towards neophilia (AKA the preference for new and novel things).
Scaring Your Cat Can Give Them Anxiety
A cat’s reaction in these videos is a fear-evoked fight-or-flight response. The nervous system signals a surge of adrenaline, and it flies into overdrive as protection, says Dr. Delgado.
“If your cat is repeatedly scared when interacting with you, they will associate you with those negative experiences and start to avoid you. We always want to do our best to avoid startling or scaring our cats, and be a calm, reassuring, and loving presence for them,” Dr. Delgado explains. If your cat doesn’t realize it’s you that’s placing the oblong produce behind their back, they might start to associate frightening events with other factors in their surroundings, like their food bowl or the location of the incident. Repeated stress and fear, reports The Ohio State University, doesn’t lead to anything good.
When faced with stress-inducing conditions, cats might exhibit alarming symptoms. These can include GI upset, a lack of appetite, and peeing outside of the litter box.
What are the signs of anxiety in cats?
“Fear is a normal response to something that might be dangerous,” Dr. Delgado explains. “Anxiety is when you are afraid of things that should not be threatening, or a persistent feeling of fear when there is no danger in the environment.”
Symptoms of cat anxiety can include the following.
- Reezing, or standing rooted in place
- Running away
- Ears pointed back
- Wide eyes and dilated pupils
- Aggression, like scratching, biting, or hissing
While anxiety in cats can look a lot like fear, it will be persistent or frequently recurring. Creating a calm environment with a predictable routine can help, but sometimes it’s best to seek help from your vet or feline behavioral specialist.
As the human-animal bond deepens, we learn more about our cats. We’ve gained a better understanding of their body language and have picked up some tricks and tips on how to best co-habitat with them.
We know that it’s best not to evoke your cat’s flight-or-fight fear response, but that doesn’t mean you can’t safely enjoy a cucumber with your cat. Yes, cats can eat cucumbers, and many love the crunchy texture. In fact, you may be surprised to find that carrots, apples, strawberries, bananas, and watermelon all are safe for your cat to eat, too. When given the chance to safely explore, your cat might find these fruits and veggies tasty, not scary when given in moderation.
You can also find other fun ways to play with your cat; there are a plethora of cat toys available on the market or interactive activities to engage in to prevent boredom — it’s all about finding the right fit for you and your feisty feline!