There’s a perplexing phobia that seems to be majorly afflictling the cat community in recent years: cucumbers.
Search YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Vimeo, or literally any place where videos live on the internet and you’ll be bombarded by countless instances of cats who, when confronted with cucumbers, act as though they’ve just seen a ghost.
Sure, many cats are easily frightened—by loud noises, by sudden movements, by even their own tails. But there’s nothing conceivably terrifying about an inanimate green piece of produce, even for a notoriously skittish creature, which begs the question: Why are cats afraid of cucumbers?
Well, according to Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com, a Seattle-based pet-care company, it has nothing to do with a cucumber’s ostensible purpose (being eaten), or whether your cat is personally opposed to crunchy salad ingredients or not. No, it all comes down to simple Darwinism.
Hold up. Are cats really afraid of cucumbers?
Short answer: Yes. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. “No one is really sure as to exactly what the issue is with cats and cucumbers (or zucchinis, et cetera),” says Dr. Richter.
However, there are some prevailing theories about why cats are afraid of cucumbers. “One very real possibility is a phenomena called ‘biological preparedness.’ A biologically prepared behavior is one that an animal is hard-wired to have,” explains Dr. Richter. “For example, many people have an innate fear of snakes and/or spiders. The vast majority of people have never been harmed by snakes or spiders, but, just the same, the fear exists. The same can be said for a fear of heights. Something within us triggers a fear response when we see (or even think) about these things. When it comes to cats and cucumbers, it may be that the shape triggers a response that would be more appropriate for a snake.”
Though Richter readily admits that this theory hasn’t been scientifically proven, he says that it’s not dissimilar to the response humans have to unusual visual stimuli. “Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye and thought it was a spider and had your heart skip a beat? Maybe the same thing is happening with cats when the see a vaguely snake-shaped object suddenly appear behind them. Add that to the fact that cats are classically neophobic (afraid of new things) and are frequently disturbed by anything new or unexpected and we can begin to understand what is happening here.”
Should you try making your own kitty-vs.-veggie video?
As for whether or not most cat owners should test out their own theories as to why cats are afraid of cucumbers, Richter says the answer is a definite nope. “The people who are setting these videos up are intentionally scaring an unsuspecting animal. Unlike a practical joke played on a person where the ‘victim’ understands what has happened and hopefully can laugh about it afterwards, the cat remains in the dark,” he says.
And just because your cat may look like a vicious beast when he or she’s attacking a mouse, spider, or their shadow, that doesn’t mean they should be treated like an apex predator by their trusted human.
“Cats are predators, but they are also prey,” explains veterinarian Dr. Liz Bales, founder of Doc & Phoebe’s Cat Co. “To be safe from harm, they’re constantly scanning their environment for danger. In the cucumber videos, you’ll notice that the offending veggie is placed in the cat’s environment while it is distracted by food, or another stimulus. When the cat turns around, and a large object is there that was not there seconds ago, it is startled and sometimes downright terrified. To some, that’s funny. I think it’s mean.”
And while you may still be eager to uncover an answer to this perplexing problem via your own not-so-scientific methods, Dr. Richter cautions that doing so may adversely affect your cat—and your relationship with him or her—for good.
“They have no idea what just happened and they stand to suffer very real levels of stress and potentially significant behavioral changes as a result,” explains Richter. “Veterinarians see plenty of animals every day that have behavioral problems stemming from traumatic events. There is certainly no need to set these traumas up on purpose. Intentionally traumatizing an animal (physically or emotionally) for entertainment is just wrong.”
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