We all know that the sole purpose of the internet is to celebrate the existence of cats. Whether you’re into funny videos or domestic pranks, you have surely stumbled upon at least one of them with the following set up: the cat, minding her own business, is startled with nothing more than a regular cucumber. The results are, with no exception, hilarious. But why are cats scared of cucumbers?
From the moment the first video of this kind went viral, there were a lot of theories and follow up “experiments” that tried to shed some light on this seemingly illogical occurrence. Some of the theories even drew the attention of scientists and cat behavior specialists, and we were finally able to get a satisfactory explanation once and for all.
In this article, we have summarized all the data and explanations of this important matter. We will list and explain all the theories and give you some interesting facts about the feline behavior. We will also discuss whether pranking your cat is a good idea or not, no matter how fun it is.
Why the Fear of Cucumbers?
The legend goes as follows. Many, many eons ago, cats and cucumbers started a war in the Cat Eden. Many battles and many centuries later, the cucumber armies were victorious, and cats were exiled from their ancestral lands. But the stories of the cucumbers’ vicious sneak attacks that left cats bitterly defeated are still told to every new generation of felines.
The other legend says that cats were originally vegetarians, but then they encountered the weird green plant and tried to add it to the summer salad. Unfortunately, felines disliked the taste so much that they immediately switched to being carnivores, just so they would never mistakenly eat a cucumber again.
Well, not really—although it sounds like a fun idea to entertain.
The not so exciting truth is, you could probably get the same reaction with pineapple, tomato, or any other object if you place it in the cat’s blind spot. Furthermore, not all cats react to cucumbers. Some are completely indifferent, to the disappointment of their prank-loving humans.
However, some cats do react to cucumbers exclusively. This has been studied extensively by countless cat owners throughout the globe, and while we can’t call it an official study, it has all the elements of one. If you are interested in learning more about it, you can find it in the next section.
The Cucumber Theories
In this section, we will list all the theories and possible reasons for this peculiar cat behavior. There were a lot of speculations for some time, and some of the theories are at least funny, if not feasible.
After all the confusion settled, the experts such as cat behaviorists and even neuroscientists entered the scene to explain the situation and weed out the misconceptions.
Many veterinarians, behaviorists, and cat owners have come to the same conclusion, so here is the summary:
#1: Cucumbers Resemble Snakes
Some evolutionary biologists believe that cats have a natural fear of snakes. In a study conducted in the early 2000s, it was found that primates have a natural aversion to snakes. This is explained as a deeply wired survival instinct that originated very early on.
The individuals who had no inherent fear of snakes were under much higher risk of being bitten and dying, while others, who had a healthy startle reflex, were wise enough to move out of the reptilian’s way.
Naturally, those that survive get to breed, and the fear of the reptilians became hard coded in our DNA. This would be a classic case of the “fear of the predator” which is encoded into every living creature not standing at the top of the food chain.
The problem with this theory is that the subjects were primates, not cats. Felines are known to hunt and kill snakes. In fact, cats have reflexes that are on par with those of the reptilian family members, so they often see small snakes as easy meals.
See Also: Why Do Cats Bring Home Dead Animals
#2: Cucumbers Resemble Lizards
The green color and the shape is associated with lizards in general. This theory is really far-fetched, but it is worth mentioning because a lot of people believe there is something to it. Reptiles are considered to be unwelcome guests to many animals, not just because of the venom, but also because of how bad they can taste.
This theory is considered false because, even if all of this is true, the bad taste of a certain critter is no reason for red alert. Furthermore, cats don’t really see colors in the same way humans do. They don’t experience the same hue and saturation intensity of colors as humans do. Evolutionarily speaking, they don’t need it.
This usually makes people think that cats are stuck in a world with only shades of gray, but that is also a misconception. Cats see blue and green but with much less intensity than humans. Red and pink are very much a big mess, though.
What cats really need is a sharp vision at short distances, which makes them short-sighted. Having said all that, it is completely superfluous to include the color green into the equation.
See Also: How Do Cats See
#3: It is Just a Regular Startle Reflex
Contrary to the “fear of the predator” explanation given above, this theory offers the “fear of the unknown” approach. This same prank was tried with various fruits and vegetables and cats always reacted the same.
Those who were startled by cucumbers were startled by other fruit as well. Those who showed an indifferent attitude in the first place kept it no matter what type of greens were used. These reports really reinforce this theory.
Cats are very cautious by nature and are suspicious of foreign objects. If you ever saw a cat encounter a completely new thing in the apartment, you know what we are talking about.
The poor kitty was just resting or eating, minding her own business, when all of a sudden, something invaded her space. It is the equivalent of someone sneaking behind your back and waiting silently for you to turn around (and scream). It has nothing to do with snakes, does it?
The Psychology Behind the Behavior
Whichever of the aforementioned theories you choose to believe, it is important to notice one obvious fact: no cat was ever startled by a cucumber placed in her field of vision and at a distance. In fact, they probably won’t even decide to check it out. This is why we would like to explain the startle reflex a bit more.
#1: Blind Spots and Surprises
Cats are predators, which means that their eyes are set in the front of their face. This gives them a very accurate depth perception, but there is a price to pay.
If you ever compared a cat (or human) face to that of a horse, for example, you will notice that ungulates have eyes set on the side of their skulls. This gives prey animals a much broader field of vision, so they can easily spot predators.
Cats, however, have a field of vision similar to humans (around 210 degrees) which means it is very easy to sneak up on them when they are distracted.
One minute there was no suspicious vegetable when she approached her food bowl, but all of a sudden, there is one right behind her, possibly ready to attack.
The cat doesn’t really see a cucumber in that split second—she sees an unfamiliar object invading her space. That’s where the startle response kicks in. What it does is simple—it tells the cat to move away from the potential danger as quickly as possible. Naturally, the innate curiosity will then draw the cat back to investigate.
#2: The Startle Reflex
So what is the startle response, really? All animals have it, and the interesting thing is that it is a largely unconscious reaction. In fact, it is so deeply implemented in our psyche that some people don’t even remember how they reacted in triggering situations.
The startle response is always connected to a stimulus that is sudden or threatening and is usually followed by a startle reflex.
The startle reflex can be expressed in different forms, such as crouching, protecting the head, or jumping, but the most immediate reaction is always getting away from the threat.
The reflex reaction is actually a cascade reaction that happens as the signal from the brain travels down the spinal cord and triggers motor functions. This is an interesting process to observe.
The first part of the body to react is the head, which involves blinking and moving the head and neck away from the threat. Next, the shoulders and arms move, only to be followed by the torso and the legs. Of course, this all happens within milliseconds, so it is hard to notice the sequence without a high-speed camera.
#3: Some Cats are Jumpier Than Others
Even with all this said, not all individuals react in the same way in stressful situations. Some have a very strong startle reflex and can react quite erratic, while the others can seem completely unaffected by the apparent threat. This is why you can see some cats make mayhem and others look barely surprised.
Why You Should Never Prank Your Cat
We are very much aware of the fact that this is absolutely hilarious. It is a temptation hard to resist, whether you’re trying to get back at your cat for keeping you up all night last Monday or you just want a couple of good laughs. But on the other hand, think about the set up for this prank.
The best (or, if you think about it, the worst) time to get your cat startled is while she is eating or resting. These are the times when the cat feels safe and puts down her guard. Your cat is relaxed and just about to dive into her delicious lunch or take an afternoon nap. And that’s when the danger strikes!
Apart from doing a lot of damage around the house if things go south (some cats are much jumpier than the others, as we have already explained), your cat can get seriously injured.
When the “fight or flight” reflex kicks in, no creature is fully aware of their surroundings, and they certainly don’t care about the expensive china in the cupboard. Furthermore, your cat might begin to think that her safe places have been compromised and develop anxiety.
Watching all those hilarious videos is all fun and games, but what you don’t see is a plethora of those which went horribly wrong—other pets, the owners, or even the cats themselves getting seriously injured or the apartment being wrecked by a frantic cat.
The bottom line is, you can’t know how your cat will react in such situations and you might regret the idea. Ask your veterinarian how he/she feels about the patients he/she gets as a result of domestic pranks gone wrong, and you might hear some really inappropriate language.
We hope that this article helped shed some light on this unusual phenomenon. Scientific explanations might not be as funny as the obvious statement that cats and cucumbers are natural enemies, but it is very useful to know how a cat’s mind works and why they find some everyday objects fear-inspiring.
If you were just about to say “That is all fine, but aren’t dogs predators as well? Why don’t they react so frantically to a sneakily placed cucumber?” Well, to that, we must answer—cats are weird. They have their own rules, and those rules don’t include human logic. Sometimes they even defy the very laws of physics.
At last, we hope you will not succumb to the temptation of pranking your cat like this, because we know her well being is in the first place on your list, Be safe, be smart, and enjoy each other’s company. We are sure your cat will give you a lot of opportunities for laughter, even with no cucumbers involved.
Is your cat one of those that are scared of cucumbers? Or does she not react to cucumbers at all? Let us know you and your cat’s experience with cucumbers in the comments section! For other fun facts about cats, check out our article on why do cats hate water.