I was pretty happy when my new vacuum cleaner came in a couple of weeks ago and I could finally clean carpets properly again. My cat on the other hand, was less pleased. In fact, the blackest looks I’ve ever gotten from her was due to the vacuum cleaner. (The younger cat hates the hand mixer, but that’s another story).
If you talk to other cat owners, you’ll hear a similar story – most cats it seems have mixed feelings of hate and fear of the vacuum cleaner and nothing will send them flying into hiding faster than vacuum day. But why? Most cats probably don’t exactly have a traumatic experience around them, so why are cats afraid of vacuums?
Vacuums are Frightening
The main reason why cats are afraid of vacuums is that to a cat, they are frightening. Vacuum cleaners are noisy, they have a lot of moving parts, there is no warning when the noise is going to start, they are large, and to a cat, there is no rhyme or reason to when they will suddenly turn on.
They move around the house, seemingly chasing the cat, and the robot ones are boring to play with and don’t even have you attached to them. So, all in all, vacuums are just straight-up frightening for most cats. And since most people don’t vacuum daily, most cats don’t get enough regular exposure to get used to them, so it’s terrifying every time.
A vacuum cleaner to us humans isn’t any big deal, other than having to use it, but to a cat, it’s a noisy monster that chases them around. That’s rather hard to get over, especially if they weren’t socialized to a vacuum from a young age!
It’s important to remember that while cats are predators, they are far from top predators, and a cat that is aware of its surroundings is a cat that is more likely to survive its surroundings and pass those genes on to kittens.
This is why cats stay aware of things like strangers, traffic outside, vacuums, hand mixers, and other animals – they have to be aware of the problem before they can do something about it.
At the bottom, cats are afraid of vacuums for the same reason they are afraid of hand mixers, blow dryers, and blenders – noisy, moving, and being that way at random (From their point of view) times. To be fair, many toddlers and babies feel the same way!
Some Cats May Have Had Traumatic Experiences
You cannot rule out that your cat may have had a traumatic experience as a kitten with a vacuum. And it doesn’t even have to have been an abusive or violent one – just having the vacuum suddenly come on nearby is enough to imprint many cats with a fear of the tool.
If that’s the case, no matter how gentle you were in introducing the vacuum, your cat may still be afraid of it, so you’ll have to go even slower.
Again, it doesn’t mean your cat has been abused or anything, it’s just that most people don’t really think of having to acclimate their cat to a vacuum cleaner until it’s too late.
Ways to Help Your Cat Be Less Afraid of the Vacuum
Before we look at ways to help your cat, it’s important to note that not all cats will be afraid of the vacuum and not all cats can be trained out of being afraid of the vacuum. But there are some ways you can help your cat manage cleaning day a little more easily.
- Separate your cat from the vacuum. Move your cat to a quiet room away from the cleaning and give her some treats or a favorite toy or a blanket. Do that room last for cleaning and before taking the vacuum anywhere near it, move your cat again to another room, as far away as possible. If you can, it’s not a bad idea to shut the door too so that some of the noise is blocked.
- Try to vacuum at roughly the same time of day and same days of the week so that it becomes routine. Cats are massive fans of routine and by turning the ‘noisy monster’ into a routine, it can be more easily managed for your cat.
- Make sure your cat has a ‘climber’ it can perch on. It doesn’t have to be fancy – my young cat likes to hang out on the basement window which is pretty high up off the floor! My old cat will glower at me from the steps. As long as the climber is something they can get on so that they can watch the proceedings from a safe distance, it can be helpful. Shelves or something slapped together from leftover pieces of wood will be fine.
- Reward your cat after the vacuuming is done.
Of course, these aren’t guaranteed to work, but they may help a nervous cat feel a little better about the whole thing. It’s also not a bad idea to do your vacuuming while your cat is awake so that it has the opportunity to leave and won’t get startled out of a nap by the noise.
Can I Train My Cat to No Longer Be Afraid of the Vacuum?
There’s no easy answer to that because it will depend a great deal on the cat’s personality and age. But there are a few things you can do that might help and won’t cost you anything but time.
An extremely important tool to utilize is socializing – in this case, socializing the cat to the vacuum. Silly sounding, I know, but it can really help.
It’s a slow process though – you have to start by leaving the vacuum out and rewarding your cat for walking by it, sniffing it, and poking at it. Then slowly move up to using the vacuum just outside the room, with plenty of rewards, and ultimately to using the vacuum in the same space as the cat.
This should all be done very slowly though, with plenty of praise and rewards at each step. The last step where you get your cat accustomed to the noise of the vacuum will likely be the slowest one since it’s the noise that they really hate.
Not all cats will be trainable though, so that’s important to note. Older cats or naturally timid or worried cats will have a harder time getting used to vacuum cleaners compared to younger cats who are braver.
It’s important to take your cat’s personality into account while you are doing your vacuum training and don’t expect more than your cat can give you.
My old cat hates the vacuum, but she’s not the type to carry a grudge and usually just goes upstairs while I vacuum and then comes back to her basement lairs when I’m done. But I do get black looks every time she sees me coming with it now! I am hopeful she will soon remember that she’s been around vacuums most of her life and they’ve never hurt her.
How does your cat react to the vacuum cleaner? Are you able to do things like vacuum right beside them or do they bolt at the first sign of it coming?
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.