Why Are Dogs and Cats Scared of Vacuum Cleaners?

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You'd think cats and dogs would get used to seeing you use the vacuum, but for many pets, the mere sight of the monster appliance brings out their fear, and they begin to howl. Why are dogs scared of vacuums, and what causes cats' fear of vacuums? Experts call it zuigerphobia, the irrational fear of an object, and say it is the combination of its loud noise, comparatively large size, and even its smell that sends fear through pets. Fortunately, there are ways to calm them.

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Many pets do not like vacuum cleaners?
Image Credit: Oat_Phawat/iStock/GettyImages

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Dogs, cats, and vacuum cleaners

Look at the vacuum cleaner from their perspective. Your pets have just settled in for an afternoon snooze when out of the closet rolls the mammoth machine, which must seem huge compared to cats and to all but the very largest dogs. It doesn't look or act like another animal, so they don't know how to begin to fight it. Curious cats may bat at it, but it doesn't react the way they expect, so it's a real mystery. They don't understand its purpose in cleaning up their hair and dander; they don't even know their shedding is a problem.

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It's frighteningly loud

A dog's hearing is about four times more sensitive than human hearing. So, if you can hear a sound happening across the room, your dog hears it just as loudly from several rooms away. If the vacuum cleaner sounds loud to you, imagine how loud it must seem to your dog.

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Few people know, however, that cats can hear even better than dogs, especially at high frequencies. So, while dogs let us know with their barking and howling how loud vacuum cleaners sound to them, the sound is even more magnified to cats. There is no need to wonder, "Why are cats scared of vacuums?"

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It smells funny

We may only notice when the vacuum cleaner gives off an occasional odd odor, like a burning smell when something is caught in its roller, but dogs and cats smell the vacuum all the time and from far away.

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Dogs have a heightened sense of smell; it's one of the ways they discover the world. When you take dogs for a walk, they stop to smell everything. When two dogs meet, the first thing they do is sniff each other. When they encounter a new human, they have to sniff the person all over. Cats have an even more heightened, innate sense of smell because they need to be able to sniff out their prey.

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Helping pets conquer their fear

It may seem insurmountable, but you can help your pets get over their zuigerphobia with the vacuum cleaner by desensitizing them gradually and patiently. First, keep the vacuum out of the closet in plain sight for several days without using it and encourage them to come over and explore it. Next, keeping the vacuum across the room from your pets, turn it on for a few seconds but don't vacuum with it or move it. Any time your pets venture closer to the vacuum instead of running out of the room, reward them with a treat and lavish praise, even it they only came a baby step closer.

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Your pets may not ever be overjoyed when you run the vacuum cleaner. It often helps if you give them places to go where they feel safe, like the top of a cat tree or a separate room for dogs. Eventually, they may understand that you are warning them, and they'll go to their safe spot.

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As you move from room to room vacuuming, your dog will need to have other safe spots to which she can move. When you have finished vacuuming for each session, put the vacuum back in the closet so she knows it is finished for the time being, and she can relax.

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