A while back, people on the internet discovered that cats seem to be afraid of cucumbers. A series of videos and gifs sprang forth depicting unsuspecting cats being very startled by cucumbers.
In the videos, owners generally placed a cucumber behind cats who were eating or otherwise distracted. Upon discovering the cucumber, the cats would leap comically into the air. Everyone had a good laugh and wondered fleetingly what the deal with cats was. But what, really, is the explanation behind these cats' apparent fear of this harmless vegetable?
Cats do not like surprises.
Like so many things, the explanation is less cucumber-specific than you think. It turns out cats are afraid of almost anything that sneaks up on them, including vegetables. According to animal behavior specialist Dr. Roger Mugford, cats are suspicious of the unknown.
Cats may have genetic memory.
Cucumbers might remind cats of snakes, or they might remind them of other similar predators. Anything placed behind an unsuspecting cat is likely to trigger their startle response. "I suspect that there would be the same reaction to a model spider, a plastic fish or a human face mask," says Dr. Mugford.
Is intentionally scaring cats cruel?
Many people find the videos hilarious, but cat experts have called the trend cruel. Dr. Jill Goldman, a certified animal behaviorist, told National Geographic that it's never a good idea to cause undue stress to your pet. "If you do it for laughs it makes me question your humanity," she said.
Additionally, as mentioned above, many cat owners were staging these videos during feeding time, so their hapless cats would turn around after dinner and find the offending cucumber. Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, told National Geographic that this action is extra cruel because cats associate their feeding places with safety and security. Disrupting their safe zone with a surprise cucumber can cause your cat great stress, and just isn't worth the laugh.
As a general rule, on the internet as in life, it's best to do your research before re-enacting any video with your own pets. For the record, I hate cucumbers too, so I stand with these cats.