What Happens When You Put A Cucumber Behind A Cat?

Videos and memes of cats suddenly leaping straight up in the air after being startled by cucumbers placed behind them have become a viral phenomenon online in recent years. The trend seems to have started with a 2015 YouTube video showing various cats freaking out at the sight of cucumbers. Since then, countless social media users have delighted in filming their own cats’ dramatic reactions to stealthily-placed cucumbers and sharing the funny results.

Cats’ Instinctive Response

Cats have an instinctive fear of snakes due to their evolutionary history as prey animals. This instinct causes them to react defensively to cucumber shapes because of the visual similarities. According to Purina, cats react to cucumbers because they resemble snakes in size, color, and shape. Cats are hardwired to be cautious of potential threats like snakes in order to survive.

This instinctive fear response is present even in cats who have never encountered a real snake before. As predators themselves, cats still have the innate drive to protect themselves from larger predators they perceive as threatening. The unexpected appearance of a cucumber triggers their instinct to flee from what looks like a snake. So placing a cucumber behind a cat elicits an instant reaction to get away from the perceived threat.

Visual Similarities

Cats are predatory animals and their instincts have evolved to detect potential threats in their environment. When they see an unfamiliar object, especially one that resembles a snake, it triggers their instinct to protect themselves (1).

The elongated shape and dark green color of cucumbers are similar to snakes. Cats see cucumbers from a distance and their brains subconsciously perceive them as possible threats before realizing they are harmless vegetables up close. This instinctive reaction is heightened if a cucumber is placed in a cat’s peripheral vision or moved suddenly behind them when they aren’t expecting it (2).

While all cats have this innate response, some individual cats may react more strongly than others depending on their personality and past experiences. But the visual triggers of an oblong shape and green color are universally unsettling to cats until they determine the object is non-threatening.

Individual Reactions

Cats can react very differently to the cucumber prank depending on their environment and personality. Shy, anxious cats who startle easily may leap several feet in the air at the sight of the cucumber. According to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Katherine Houpt, more confident cats may sniff at the cucumber curiously instead of reacting fearfully (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/about-center/fhc-updates/cats-and-cucumbers-our-behavior-expert-talks-about-why-cats-are-freaking-out).

A cat’s environment can also affect their reaction. Indoor cats who rarely encounter new objects may be more likely to startle at the unfamiliar cucumber. Outdoor cats accustomed to a stimulating environment tend to be less easily frightened. One study found that outdoor cats showed fewer signs of stress and anxiety compared to indoor cats (https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/about-center/fhc-updates/cats-and-cucumbers-our-behavior-expert-talks-about-why-cats-are-freaking-out).

Kittens and juvenile cats often show more curiosity and less fear towards new objects. Older cats may be more set in their ways and easily startled. An individual cat’s upbringing and socialization also contributes to their personality and how boldly they explore new things (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdiujKL5Ypw).

Risks and Considerations

While the cucumber prank may seem harmless at first, there are some important risks and considerations to keep in mind before startling your cat.

Intentionally surprising or scaring pets can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. As prey animals, cats are already sensitive to perceived threats in their environment. When a cucumber suddenly appears, it triggers their fight-or-flight response, sending adrenaline and stress hormones surging through their body. Over time, that can cause negative behaviors like aggression and marking their territory with urine. [1]

The prank also erodes trust between the cat and owner. Cats feel most secure when their environment is predictable. Surprising them shatters that sense of safety. As a result, the cat may become wary, avoiding the areas where they got startled. Some cats may even become fearful of their owners.

There are better ways to stimulate and enrich your cat’s life. Investing in interactive puzzle toys and rotating novel objects on a schedule lets cats explore safely on their own terms. And schedule regular playtime to allow positive interactions.

While the cucumber prank may get laughs online, it’s important to consider the cat’s wellbeing. Find other ways to entertain that don’t undermine your bond.

Positive Reinforcement

Instead of playing pranks with cucumbers that can scare cats, experts recommend using positive reinforcement. According to a professor certified in applied animal behavior from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “a more effective approach is to set up the environment to provide positive reinforcement for relaxed, non-fearful responses to novelty, and ensure that cats are not trapped or feel threatened in any way.”1 Positive reinforcement training can help build confidence in cats and encourages curiosity and relaxation when encountering new objects or situations.

Training Tips

If your cat has an extreme fear response to cucumbers, there are some training methods you can try to help them. Always use positive reinforcement like treats and praise, never punishment. Here’s some advice:

  • Place the cucumber farther away at first, then slowly move it closer as your cat remains calm.
  • Reward and distract your cat with treats when they see the cucumber and don’t react in fear.
  • Play with toys to build confidence and establish that the area with the cucumber is safe.
  • Use clicker training or a verbal marker like “good” to mark and reward calm behavior around the cucumber.
  • Try rubbing catnip on the cucumber so your cat associates it with something positive.
  • Be patient and gradually condition your cat that the cucumber is not a threat.

With positive reinforcement methods, you can help your cat overcome an excessive fear response. But always go at their pace and don’t force interactions.

Enrichment Ideas

Creating a stimulating environment is crucial for cats’ wellbeing. There are many easy, fun ways to provide enrichment at home. Give your cat opportunities to express natural behaviors like scratching, perching, hiding, and playing. Rotate toys frequently to prevent boredom. Ideas include:

  • Scratching posts, cardboard scratchers, and scratching mats made from sisal, cardboard, or carpeting
  • Interactive toys like feather wands, circular track balls, and treat balls
  • Puzzle feeders and food dispensing toys to make cats “hunt” for meals
  • Tunnels, cubes, and hideaway beds for hiding and perching
  • Catnip and catnip-filled toys to encourage play
  • Boxes, paper bags, and empty tissue rolls to explore and play inside

For more enrichment inspiration, check out the ASPCA’s article on cheap and easy homemade cat toys.

Fostering Trust

Gaining a cat’s trust is of crucial importance, especially for shy, fearful, or anxious cats. As you work to build trust, be patient and allow the cat to warm up to you at their own pace. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises that may startle the cat. According to Pet Services Blog, speak in a gentle, reassuring tone and let the cat sniff you before attempting to pet them. Allow the cat to approach you first before reaching to pet them. Sit near the cat while ignoring them at first so they can observe you and realize you’re not a threat.

Establishing a consistent daily routine with regular feedings and designated play time can also foster trust, as noted by Rover. Make sure the cat has access to hiding spots and high perches where they can retreat if feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Going slow and being consistent are key to building a bond of trust with a shy or skittish cat. With time, patience, and positive reinforcement with treats or toys, the cat will gain confidence and form a close bond.


In summary, startling cats with cucumbers or similar objects carries risks and should not be done without caution. While some cats may be curious or indifferent, others can become frightened due to the object’s resemblance to a snake. Individual cats’ personalities and past experiences also greatly impact their reactions. For their wellbeing, it’s best to slowly introduce unfamiliar objects and build up their confidence and trust gradually through positive reinforcement techniques. Instead of pranking cats with cucumbers, provide them enrichment through proper playtime, cat towers, food puzzles, and quality time with their owner. With patience and care, you can have fun with cats without compromising their health and happiness.

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