Why Are Cats Scared of Cucumbers?

frightened cat by food bowl

Over the past few years, you may have noticed an influx of videos showing cats being frightened by their owners with a cucumber. While their reactions seem to vary in the degree with which they become terrified, the general synopsis remains that cats must be scared of cucumbers. But why is that?  

There are a few theories as to why a cat may become frightened at the sight of a cucumber. Some people believe that your kitty believes the cucumber to be a snake, and their natural instincts to flee take over. Another theory is that it’s not the cucumber itself, but how, when, and where it was placed. Placing any unknown object unbeknownst to them while they are in a vulnerable position can terrify them.  

Going over the research conducted, I hope that it will not only shed some light on why they are seemingly terrified of cucumbers but also why you probably shouldn’t try to spook your cat in this manner – no matter how ‘cute’ or funny the video might be.  

Why Cucumbers or Some Other Fruits May Terrify a Cat

In 2005 ABC News ran a story called “Why These Scaredy Cats Are Absolutely Terrified of Cucumbers.”  It was entertaining to many people, and it listed some of the plausible reasons why they may be terrified of them as well as discouraged cat owners from doing this to their feline friends. It seemed to have the opposite effect, as the viral cucumber prank videos began to appear more frequently. It’s not just with cucumbers, however. There have been other videos of people shoving bananas, carrots, eggplants, and even ears of corn in their cat’s faces. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few different theories as to why these objects induce a fear response in our furry friends, let’s go over those now. 

Cats Think the Cucumber is a Snake

a closeup of a cucumber as the cat would see from their point of view

Con Slobodchikoff postulated the theory that cats may believe a cucumber to be a snake at first glance. He is an animal behaviorist, conservation biologist, as well as a professor at Northern Arizona University. He also wrote several books, including Chasing Doctor Dolittle. He hypothesized that the cats might be terrified because they may believe the cucumber was a snake and that it had snuck up behind them. Cats instinctively fear snakes when they are caught off guard by them, and their instincts are to avoid them unless they have the predatory upper hand and are hunting.  

Con Slobodchikoff believes that the cucumbers caused the cat’s instinctive fears to kick in. Jumping several feet in the air at the sight of something unknown that may harm them is hard wired as an instinct in cats as well, as that is how they would typically avoid getting bit in a situation by getting out of harm’s way. While cucumbers may resemble snakes more than other items, bananas, as well as many other cylindrical objects around the house, caused a fear response in the cats as well.  

It’s Not the Cucumber; It’s Where and How it was Presented

This is another theory and one I tend to put more stock into. While the snake theory has merit, it didn’t explain why some cats could care less when they saw it was a cucumber. Or how most cats wouldn’t be terrified at all if the cucumber or banana were sitting in the middle of the living room instead. In these cases, the cats could typically be observed walking up to it, sniffing it, then walking off.  

This theory revolves around where the foreign object was presented to them and what they were doing at the time. Cats usually are quite calm and collected. They believe themselves to be higher up in the food chain, and they are skilled predators by nature. If you have ever watched videos of feral cats or lions out in the wild, you may have noticed that they tend to keep a lookout when the others are eating. Cats are most vulnerable when they eat, sleep, or relieve their bowels.  

Maybe you have noticed that when you eat, your cat becomes more alert. They do so because they are watching out for you. This is the same reason why when they eat, they like for you to be close. Cats know they are vulnerable, and they want you to keep watch and keep them safe.  

If you want another view on this, you can look at YouTube for videos of cats vs. snakes. Cats are incredibly talented at killing snakes and have no problem doing so and then consuming a good many of them.  

Why You Shouldn’t Prank Your Cat with a Cucumber

A timid cat, worried about something

In most of these “prank videos,” the owner is breaking their cat’s trust by introducing an unknown right behind them when they are most vulnerable. It frightens them. Imagine if you were eating dinner or having a snack on the couch while watching television, then a spider landed on your forehead or a rat ran across your lap. Would you have the same reaction? I would! In fact, I have a difficult time believing I would jump anywhere near as graceful as the cats do in the videos, and have little doubt that my plate would go flying as well.  

Since they are trusting you to protect them while they are vulnerable, breaking this trust your cat has in you can cause other problems. First off is the area in which the “prank” happened. Most people feed their cats in the same place every day. My cats were behind a baby-gated spot in the kitchen, so my corgi wouldn’t try to eat their food. Where they eat is a safe place for them, they know they can go there and dine in peace.  

Introducing fear into that environment can at best make them feel uneasy about their previously safe-haven, and at worst, make them fearful to the point that they refuse to eat. Cats that don’t eat enough are at high risk for fatty liver disease, as well as other problems. The same goes for their water. A cat that refuses to drink enough water can develop liver problems and issues in their kidneys as well. 

Second off, they could physically injure themselves. Jumping and twisting in the air could cause injury, and some of the objects in the house could harm them should they hit their bodies on them in the process.  

Another reason is that you may completely collapse their ability to trust you. If they are always in an unsafe environment or feel like you don’t have their back when they need it, they can start to develop a state of neuroticism. I doubt that always being skittish and jumpy at everything is something that you really want for your furry friend.  

How To Get Your Cat to Not Be Afraid of Cucumbers

timid cat deciding if he wants to come out from hiding

For the most part, cats are not afraid of cucumbers. Unless, of course, you were one of those pet owners that thought it would be funny to startle your cat. Cats are incredibly smart; besides a few select breeds, they are typically more intelligent than most people give them credit for. I believe they know it isn’t a snake; it was just where and how it was shoved in their faces that frightened them. If you want to test this, put a cucumber in the middle of your hallway or somewhere not right behind them. They may show little to no interest in it, or they may even start playing with it.  

If you believe your cat may be scared of anything in your house, it’s better to introduce it to them a little at a time. Do so with enough distance that they can take what time they need to evaluate whether it is a threat to them or not. It may take five minutes, it may take five days, but your cat can and will get used to the object as soon as they have determined it does not pose a threat to them.

Cats are intelligent, graceful, expert hunters – and they know it. But like most mammals, they have times they need to feel safe. They don’t like to be overly stressed or scared. They want to be in control. If you have earned your cat’s loyalty, they will let you know. The next time you are eating, or go to the bathroom, look and see if your cat stands guard or perks up. They are letting you know they are there, and you are safe. Why anyone would want to shatter that trust, and the bond they feel towards you is beyond me.  

The next time you see a video of someone doing this “prank,” hopefully you will see it as we do. There isn’t anything funny about being cruel to animals. There especially isn’t anything funny about betraying the trust of one of your animals that loves you and relies on you. This is why I have not linked to or embedded any of these videos in this article; I don’t want to support or encourage them with more views. If you agree, please do the same, there are tons of GOOD cat videos out there, try giving them a watch instead!

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I think animals are amazing, I couldn't imagine life without them.