Why Are Cats Scared of Vacuums?

Is your cat afraid of your vacuum cleaner? Why wouldn’t they be? Cats are prone to being scared of things that are loud and unfriendly. This is especially true if your particular cat had a bad experience with vacuums in the past. As loving cat owners, we only want our pets to feel safe and secure in their home. So what can you do if you don’t want cat hair to fill up your house by not using your vacuum?

In this article, you are going to learn why are cats scared of vacuums, how to accept the vacuum cleaner, and not to be so afraid of it.

Grey kitten sitting on a robot vacuum with a slightly worried look.  As if the kitten is thinking, how did I get on the back of this scary monster (vacuum).
How did I get on the back of this scary monster?

Table of Contents

Why is your cat scared of the vacuum cleaner?

It is a natural reaction for a cat to be scared of a vacuum cleaner. Why? Because it is a roaring beast. In your cat’s view, it could eat them. Rather than undertaking any training to convince them otherwise, it is easier to provide your cat with security and comfort around the scary beast, I mean machine.

What would a cat do in the wild? Since the vacuum is scary, has a unique smell, and makes a loud noise, the instinctive reaction is a cat would climb up a tree if a roaring beast approached. It’s safer there. Have you noticed your scaredy cat escapes up into their cat tree or perch when you pull out the vacuum to pick up the pet hair?

In other words, you do not train a cat to accept a vacuum cleaner. Instead, your best approach is to make them feel safe when it’s running. You want to desensitize them to it.

How can you achieve this? Provide your cat with as many elevated locations as you can. We’re talking about cat trees, furniture tops, window ledges, shelves, and perches. And don’t just add them in one safe room. Having more places to hide, and having them in every room that your cat hangs out in is crucial. Besides, climbing has many benefits beyond providing a safe haven from vacuum cleaners.

You can find how to make your house more appealing to your cat in our article here.

But is this all you can do? That’s just the first step, providing a place for your cat to feel safe when they are scared by the noisy beast, I mean vacuum. There are other things you can do to make your cat less afraid of your vacuum cleaner.

Why are cats scared of vacuums and how to train them?

A huge problem with cats and vacuum cleaners is that most people get the machine out only when using it to clean. And that sucks (literally !). Your cat won’t have a chance to “get to know” Mister Scary Vacuum Cleaner if you keep putting it away because there’s no way they’ll want to explore it while it’s roaring.

Leave the vacuum cleaner accessible at all times. Don’t hide it in the closet. Place it in the corner of the room when your cat is around. This behavior modification technique usually won’t take long. One trick we’ve found success in is to even place treats near the vacuum. We had to put them pretty far away at first, then slowly moved them closer to it until they actually ate a treat right off the vacuum. Many of our patients that come to us in our veterinary clinic with this problem have found it does reduce their cats fear.

If your cat is trying to run away from the vacuum cleaner like crazy, then let them do it. Don’t chase, grab, or yell at them. Your cats afraid and thinks they are going to be attacked and eaten. What your cats needs at this time is comfort and a safe place to hide from the monster.

  1. Do nothing. Just let your cat and the vacuum cleaner get to know each other at their own pace. Trying the treat on the vacuum will move this process along quicker.
  2. Provide a ton of attention to your cat. We mean playing – a lot of playing. Use an interactive toy, such as a fishing pole toy or a feather on a stick. Play with your cat several times a day, including in the room where the vacuum cleaner is based. It is a known fact that playing helps to reduce anxiety . Besides playing, petting, brushing, talking, and other activities can be enjoyed with your cat.
  3. Feed your cat near the vacuum cleaner. You can either give your cat one or a few of their meals near the machine, or provide treats near it as stated above. Be careful how close you put the cat food next to the machine. Slowly move it closer and closer because you need your cat to eat. Place the food as close as you can so that your cat will still eat their food. We promise, you’ll be able to decrease the distance over time.
  4. Make the monster smell familiar. Rub your cats face with a cloth and then rub it on the vacuum. Cats are strongly motivated by smells and this will help them relax as the monster will smell like them.
  5. Let sleeping cats lie. Try not to start the vacuum when your cat is sleeping. This will startle and scare them which is what you want to avoid.
  6. Make sure the vacuum cleaner does not limit your cat. What we mean here is is your cat’s fear of the vacuum cleaner isn’t preventing access to drinking water, the litter box, cat food, or a particular part of your house. Some cats would starve to death rather than pass the vacuum in the hallway. If this is the case, relocate the vacuum cleaner so that your cat doesn’t have to pass it.
  7. Don’t force your cat. Let their natural curiosity take over to explore the machine when it’s quietly sitting there. Getting over one’s fears takes slow progress so your patience with your little scaredy cat.

Once you’re able to get your cat to approach and explore an unplugged vacuum or even sniff at it without being afraid and running away, it’s time to get them used to the sound by starting the engine. But don’t move too fast.

How can you help your cat to not fear the vacuum?

Okay, we don’t have to tell you when or how to turn on a vacuum cleaner. This will happen because you have to vacuum. However…

If you start the vacuum cleaner right when your cat is next to it, they’ll probably run like the wind. This might mean all the effort you have put in so far seems a waste.

This is why you should turn on the vacuum cleaner when your cat is in another room so that you don’t surprise them. A great goal to achieve is where your cat sits in a cat tree and watches while you vacuum all their cat hair on the floor. This is a good goal to strive for. This is accomplished through desensitizing them to it with the tips above and counter condition them to see that the vacuum really isn’t that scary.

Option #1: Keep vacuuming and leave your cat alone. Let them find the way to the nearest cat tree and climb up. This is a good strategy because it puts an end to the training. Your cat feels safe and we believe that this is the way it should be.

Option #2: Stop vacuuming and go to your cat (or have someone else vacuum the room). Do everything to turn your cat’s attention to something other than the vacuum cleaner. Play with them, feed them, groom them, etc.

If your cat tries to run away, let them go. You can follow them to another room when the vacuum cleaner changes location or you can let your cat climb up a cat tree (as above).

If you have a robot vacuum, make sure your cat is in their safe place before starting it up. If you have it programmed to automatically vacuum the house at a certain time, you may have to do it manually at first to get your cat comfortable. One good thing about most robot vacuum cleaners are they don’t make nearly as much noise as a regular vacuum does.

Eventually you should see significant improvement in your cat’s relationship with the vacuum cleaner. Why? Your cat’s attention will be focused on you during vacuuming and/or your cat will have an ability to climb up to safe place. By leaving the machine in the room, your cat will also be able to see that the vacuum cleaner turns off when you are finished.

See our list of most common cat behavior problems, and their solutions.

Now you understand why are cats scared of vacuums. You know the reasons behind their fears. You further understand how to desensitize your cat to the scary vacuum. Lastly and most importantly, you know how to set up your home to give your cat a safe haven to sit and judge, I mean observe you while you vacuum up all their cat hair. This will go a long way towards a happy life for you and your cat. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.

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