No doubt you've seen the viral videos of pet owners using random cucumbers to scare the living daylights out of their cats.
Although our first instinct might be to chuckle at a cat jumping out of its skin at the sight of a harmless, surprise fruit (yep, a cucumber is technically a fruit), the truth is, it's no laughing matter.
Animal behavior experts are warning people against scaring their cats in this manner.
"If you cause stress to an animal that's probably not a good thing...If you do it for laughs it makes me question your humanity," says certified animal behaviorist, Jill Goldman. Another expert, cat behaviorist John Bradshaw, author of "Cat Sense," calls the videos "despicable."
According to Goldman, a cucumber is an unusual object that a cat wouldn't normally encounter on the floor. As such, it activates a cat's instinctive startle response.
"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. This is why you see cats leaping at the sight of the fruit.
Furthermore, Goldman believes it's possible that cats could be mistaking the cucumbers for snakes, which are potentially deadly predators.
In many of the cat videos, the cucumbers are placed near where the cats are eating. Cats are conditioned to associate their food bowls with feelings of safety and security. Introducing undue stress by the sudden appearance of a foreign object into what a cat believes is a safe environment is "a cruel thing to do," says Pam Johnson-Bennet, author of "Think Like a Cat." The popular videos usually show cats having an exaggerated reaction are usually titled cat vs cucumber.
Intentionally trying to scare cats could lead to an injury or medical and behavioral issues directly resulting from stress. However, while startling your cat just for laughs is a no-no, stimulating him by safely introducing new objects into his environment is a good thing. Bring new items into his space gradually.
"You wouldn't want to meet someone new by having them shoved right in your face...You'd want to meet them from a safe distance, such as a few arm lengths," says Goldman.
If you do introduce your cat to novel objects, be mindful of your cat's personality. Cats, like people, are individuals. Some are cool customers. Others scare easily. Regardless of "who" your cat is, so to speak, remember that messing with him might be seemingly harmless fun for you, but could be legitimately terrifying for him.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.
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