You may have recently seen a viral video compilation of cats freaking out after they’ve been ambushed by a dastardly foe: the humble garden cucumber. In these videos, the kitties are usually eating, and their owners surreptitiously sneak up behind them, place the vegetable down, and wait for their pet to turn around.
According to IFLScience, the cats’ fearful reactions—which include jumping, running, or pawing at the long green vegetable—are likely due to the surprise element of having an unexpected object placed into their territory without notice. In short, you could likely replicate the experiment with any other vegetable. (Animal behavior specialists also have other theories, including that the cats might think the cucumber is a deadly snake or other predator.)
However, National Geographic reports that your cat’s fright is more harmful than hilarious. While the cucumber isn’t stressful to you, it’s stressful to the cat. And since your pet usually has positive associations with the space surrounding its food bowl, you’re startling it while it’s in its comfort zone. In worst case scenarios, it can react by hurting itself, breaking a household object, or remaining anxious for days.
Bottom line? Slowly introduce new toys and objects to your cat, as they’re a source of mental stimulation. Just don’t unexpectedly give it a cucumber—or for that matter, any other new item that might cause distress.