How do you terrorize a cat?
Cats Vs. Cucumbers: Vet Explains Why It’s Not Good To Scare Your Cat For Fun
By now you are probably aware of the internet craze that involves scaring cats with cucumbers (who comes up with these things??). Of course, the people taking these videos thinks they’re hilarious. The cats? No so much. (Or us!)
In case you are not aware of what we are talking about, here is one such video:
It’s clear this is a strong, violent reaction. This is not a mild, “oh, that surprised me but I am going to go and investigate it.” Most of these cats throw themselves into the air and into the nearby walls in a panic-stricken attempt to get away from the cucumber.
Dr. Frank McMillan, Director of Well-Being Studies for Best Friends Animal Society, said intentionally scaring your pet for the sake of creating a humorous moment can lead instead to injury or behavior issues. Here’s why.
Why do cats react this way? Is it Instinct?
Dr. McMillan: The intense, automatic, and immediate nature of the response suggests a strong innate (instinctual) fear. This would mean that something during the cat’s evolutionary past that resembled this object or situation posed an urgent danger that required a rapid response. But what would that be? We don’t yet know. The most likely reason to evolve such a fear would be the sudden appearance of a predator. An animal that is itself a predator – like a cat – doesn’t mean it can’t be prey for another species. The cucumber may bear a resemblance to a snake (or a large snake head). But perhaps it is something else, such as a weasel.
Pets feel safe in their environment, and anything you do to change that violates that trust and shatters the bond you have with your pet. The other thing that can happen is that your cat can learn that the food area is no longer a safe place. Imagine a cat afraid to eat!
McMillan says that frightening a cat even with something as harmless as a cucumber could lead to serious injury as the cat’s “reflex fear reaction is very forceful and the cat could crash into furniture or land on something injurious.”
Stressed cats aren’t fun pets. Anxiety can cause issues such as destructive behavior and not using the litter box. Such issues are commonly named as reasons as to why cats are taken to shelters.
You mention a stressed cat is not a fun pet. When you scare your cat, what are the potential side-effects?
Dr. McMillan: There are 3 major consequences of a newly acquired fear.
- First is the most obvious – that the actual or threatened presence of the object of fear creates a fearful state of mind that impairs quality of life.
- Second, it can create a sense of insecurity in one’s own home environment, since scary events might happen anytime, anywhere.
- Third, the fear can generalize to anything related to the frightening event. For example, if a cat were repeatedly frightened by a cucumber as it finished eating the cat might become fearful of the food bowl, that part of the kitchen, or even the entire kitchen.
Could such “jokes” lead a cat to be unfriendly towards people as well?
Dr. McMillan: Fearful, yes, because of the way fear can generalize. If a cat were to be repeatedly frightened with a person nearby, the cat’s brain could connect that person with the fear, even if the person had nothing to do with causing the fear. If the cat perceives the person as being the cause of the scare, then such a response would be very likely (as nature intended it to be). If “be unfriendly towards” means “be aggressive toward,” that is possible but much less likely than to become fearful and thus avoidant of that person.
So next time you want a cute cat video, trying filming your cat in a box.
Both you and the kitty will have a grand time, without the possibility of negative side effects resulting from it. Please share this to educate others!
Want to Stress Your Cat? There’s an App for That
Smartphones have transformed us. We talk, text and toil from the palm of our hand. In general, technology has improved our lives and brings smiles to our faces. Except when it doesn’t. There’s a surge in “animal-to-human” and “pet talk” smartphone apps that may be stressing your pet out. And that’s got me upset.
I was alerted recently to a trending You Tube video titled, and please don’t click on the link, “What happens when you smack talk a cat.” [Editor’s Note: Please do not ever attempt this activity. As Dr. Ward warns, it can result in severe injury to yourself or your family members.] Normally, I’d ignore such footage because they typically involve someone doing something stupid and dangerous to an animal. This video didn’t disappoint. That’s why I don’t want you viewing it for fear that extra views will encourage someone to copy what happens. So what’s in this forbidden film?
In the video, a woman with a knee wrap is seated on the floor next to, inexplicably, a large pile of cast-iron dumbbells. Barely visible in the background is a cat perched on the lower shelf of a coffee table. The woman looks into the camera as she is holding her smartphone and reveals, “This is a human to cat translator. Here we go.”
She looks over to her cat and presumably presses the “Start” button. We don’t know what word or words she entered into the app to “translate” into “cat.” I’m concerned it may have been “smack talk” based on the video title. We don’t have to wait long to find out.
An extremely loud cat yowling sound begins emitting from her phone. Her cat immediately unfolds itself from underneath the table and abruptly approaches the phone. The cat lowers itself, and pauses just in front of the phone. The mewing from the phone continues. Most people viewing the video would focus on what happens next with the cat. I found myself captivated by the woman’s subtle body movements. As the cat approaches, the woman begins staring intently at the cat. When the cat pauses before her, she flinches ever so slightly. That’s when I knew this wasn’t the first time she’d done this to her cat. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d wager this lady knew exactly what would happen and asked someone to film it for giggles.
The cat begins to stretch itself upward with paw extended as the phone continues caterwauling. The lady subtly flinches again, as if anticipating something. And then the presumed payoff: The cat lurches up and swats at the lady’s face. The lady swiftly backhands the cat as it retreats hissing, lowering its ears, and slinking away. I suspect the cat is declawed by the absence of blood pouring from the lady’s arm. The woman throws her head back and laughs loudly; the cameraperson laughs and the video is over. “Look at that stupid cat, attacking the phone!” is the message the video seems to say.
Why is this video so dangerous?
Look at the stupidity of using a phone to scare a cat, I say. First and foremost, I don’t think it’s ever okay to willfully provoke another being for our pleasure. Would almost a million people view a video of a toddler in a high chair screaming after being frightened by a mom jumping out dressed as a bear? What if there was an app that translated “baby talk” consisting of painful and fearful infant screams? What if you played the “translations” for your baby, videotaped them freaking out, and posted it on You Tube? Funny? I don’t think so. I think you’d be calling Social Services.
Secondly, apps that promise to “translate” to or from animals are a joke. In most instances, the noises produced will alarm and potentially frighten your pet. That’s what we see in this video. I have no tolerance for anything that scares, stresses or in anyway harms the happiness and well-being of our pets. These apps are at minimum worthless and at most harmful. Delete.
Finally, before you say, “No harm, no foul.” or “Lighten up. It’s just a stupid video.” I want to remind you that a lot of people have viewed this episode. Some percentage will search for these apps and the cycle will be repeated in their home on their pet, hundreds of thousands of times. I must try to stop that.
What do vocalizations mean to pets?
Vocalizations – barking, hissing, meowing, growling and all order of sounds – have real meanings to our animals. Most involve “Danger!” or “Help!” I have no idea what the app was saying to the cat in the video other than it triggered an extreme emotional response. Add a dash of backhand swatting and you’ve got a totally stressed cat. I call foul.
This video could’ve ended with the lady losing an eye; I’ve seen that injury in real life. It could’ve ended with the cat having a head injury or broken leg if the guardian accidentally flung it into the cast-iron dumbbells; I’ve also seen plenty of those injuries. We do know it ended with a cat forever affected in the way it approaches and interacts with a person. Cats are incredibly complex critters; this app and video proves that. This video also demonstrates we’ve got a long way to go to educate people about how to understand and compassionately care for pets. We can start by ignoring these videos and apps.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.