Why Scaring Cats Isn’t Funny

Whether they’re surreptitiously placing cucumbers behind their cats’ backs while the kitties are eating or filming their felines’ terrified reactions to Halloween props, some people apparently love scaring their furry friends.

Since many of the resulting videos go viral, people hungry for online fame have even more incentive to “prank” their cats as they chase clicks. The result is potentially thousands of house cats terrorized by people with ambitions of being the next TikTok or YouTube star.

On the surface, the way cats respond to being startled might seem comical. The term “scaredy cat” didn’t manifest out of nothingness, and cats who are truly frightened have a cartoonish way of leaping back and pumping their little legs while they’re still in the air like Looney Tunes characters.

But when you think about it from your cat’s perspective, in the context of feline evolution and psychology, the cruelty of scaring a cat for “lulz” becomes obvious.

Screenshot 2021-11-01 at 08-48-55 245 jpg (WEBP Image, 1200 × 800 pixels)

First, cats are ambush predators. It’s why they love boxes, why they do the adorable crouch-and-butt-wiggle routine before pouncing on their toys, and why they like vantage points where they can see but not be seen.

They particularly dislike surprises, which is why they bolt. Cats are supposed to get the jump on other animals, not the other way around. The impulse to flee as quickly as possible — and return unseen — is hardwired into the feline brain, as natural to them as burying their poop or kneading when they feel content. Because domestic cats are small and can be predator and prey, that impulse is even stronger, but it also exists in 500-pound tigers or 200-pound jaguars.

So when you intentionally frighten your cat with an object that will be perceived, however briefly, as a predator, you’re triggering a fight-or-flight response, a rush of adrenaline and fear.

catwiggle

However, scaring a cat in its own territory (your home) or in a place he or she feels especially secure (feeding areas) adds another layer. A cat walking around outside will be naturally wary, but if you’re giving your cat a good home, as well as the love and space she deserves, she’ll feel comfortable. She’s on her home turf, in a closed environment where threats don’t pop up unexpectedly.

When a cat turns around after enjoying some yums and sees a cucumber, her hardwiring takes over, she registers the intrusive vegetable as a snake and goes into flight mode, scrambling to get away as fast as possible. It’s not just that kitty’s shocked or can get hurt scurrying away from a perceived threat, it’s also the inherent cruelty in teaching your cat that the place she thought was absolutely safe from intruders may not be.

We’re not immune to this kind of conditioning ourselves. If you settle down for a nap one day and your spouse, a sibling or a friend thinks it’s funny to wake you by dropping an ice cold bucket of water on your face, will you feel comfortable dozing off on the couch next time?

Trust is implicit in our relationships with our cats. If we abuse that trust, especially for something as meaningless as social media likes, we’re endangering our human-feline friendships and making our cats feel unsafe in their own homes.

3 thoughts on “Why Scaring Cats Isn’t Funny”

  1. People actually do this? I never got in to watching short videos like YouTube/tik tok (I know, I’m weird), and one of the main reasons was how much I hated the “let me scare/humiliate/anger my kid for clicks”. It sickens me that people are now doing it with pets.

    Me? I’ll happily stick with Buddy’s blog!

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    1. Thanks, Brooks! Yeah, unfortunately people scare their pets for videos. There were a few that went massively viral ahead of Halloween, including people who terrified their cat with animatronic skeleton cats, and the cucumber thing has been a trend for years. I didn’t link to them because I didn’t want to give them traffic, which is what they want.

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  2. Not to mention, scaring a cat like this will hasten its death. Cats do not process stress well. They internalize it which manifests in higher levels of harmful enzymes. Every time they are frightened and have to go into fight or flight response, their organs take a beating. Too much of this, and boom! Your kitty is a goner too soon. All for lolz… That’s what we have become.

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