People Are Scaring Their Cats with Cucumbers. They Shouldn’t.

A new viral trend reveals a surprising cat behavior, but pet owners should beware.

What happens when you put a cucumber behind a cat?

Some felines couldn't care less about the vegetable intrusion, but others leap high into the air when they see it. Videos of such encounters are going viral this week, as people try to see how their own pets respond.

But that’s not good for the animals, experts warn.

“If you cause stress to an animal that's probably not a good thing,” says Jill Goldman, a certified animal behaviorist in southern California. “If you do it for laughs it makes me question your humanity.” (Learn more about cat behaviors.)

John Bradshaw, a cat-behavior expert at the University of Bristol and the author of the book Cat Sense, agrees, saying the “despicable” videos are “an incitement for people to scare their cats and then invite people to laugh at them.”

Goldman explains that the cucumbers are triggering the cats’ natural startle responses, since they “would not normally see cucumbers on the floor.” 

It’s also possible they may associate the green invader with snakes, which can be deadly predators, Goldman adds.

“With a startle response, a cat will often try to get out of there as quickly as possible and then reassess from a distance,” says Goldman.

Hence the leaping cats in the videos.

The fact that the cucumbers are often placed near feeding stations in the videos confuses the cats because they often associate those areas with safety and security, adds Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat. "That's a cruel thing to do," she says.

Safe Play Time

Bringing new objects into the home can be a good source of mental stimulation for pets, but it shouldn’t be done with the goal of freaking them out, says Goldman. Trying to startle your cat on purpose could cause them to injure themselves. break something, or lead to prolonged stress. Instead, it’s best to introduce any novel items gradually.

“You wouldn’t want to meet someone new by having them shoved right in your face,” she says. “You’d want to meet them from a safe distance, such as a few arm lengths.” (Watch a video of cat hunting.)

The same is true with cats. It’s also true that each animal will respond to situations uniquely, as do human beings. Some cats, like some people, are more easily startled than others.

<p>A&nbsp;<a href="http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=A073">Canada lynx</a>&nbsp;(<i>Lynx canadensis</i>) sits primly on the shore of Loon Lake in Ontario, Canada in 1906. These 11- to 37-pound (5 to 17 kilogram) cats live in boreal forests across Canada and down into the northern United States.</p>

Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) sits primly on the shore of Loon Lake in Ontario, Canada in 1906. These 11- to 37-pound (5 to 17 kilogram) cats live in boreal forests across Canada and down into the northern United States.

Photograph by George Shiras, Naitonal Geographic Creative

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