Meet Thor. He is a courageous cat that loves to hunt animals, climb trees and does not shy away from play-fighting with Freja. Yet there is one thing that seems to fill him with fear, his arch nemesis…the broom!
After doing some digging it seems like the most likely reasons are:
Since we cannot ask cats directly why they are afraid of brooms, we can only arrive at theories and not definitive answers. In order to come up with viable theories, we tried to understand how fear works in cats and why cats become afraid through information from science and experts on cats.
1) Sudden Quick Movements & Sound
This one is arguably the most obvious theory of why brooms are scary to cats and probably the first one you think of.
When we sweep the floor, we generally do so in a long sweeping motion that can appear quite sudden. From a cat’s point of view, what you see is this very tall and strange object moving as fast as a cat along the floor in a very mechanical fashion (meaning movements they would not commonly see in nature).
Some even theorize that the sound the broom makes is akin to that of a hiss. That hypothesis is difficult to test as it is hard to sweep the floor without making any noise, but it is an interesting theory nonetheless.
For the same reasons a vacuum cleaner is scary to cats because of the loud noise and sudden movements, it is at least probable that cats are scared of the broom for the same reasons. You may have noticed that your cat does not seem scared of your vacuum cleaner if it is just sitting in the corner of the room for example.
Animals (and humans) have the fight or flight response ingrained in them. And as a study shows, there are many factors that contribute to how an animal responds in a dangerous situation such as distance to safety, its health, physical factors etc. What we can gather loosely (I am not a scientist) from this is that each cat has different thresholds for when their flight reaction kicks in.
2) Traumatic Past Experiences
Just like humans, cats associate objects, sounds, smells etc. to traumatic experiences earlier in their life and might, therefore, react in a seemingly irrational way towards objects such as brooms.
We adopted Thor when he was 3 months, but since he was a “street cat” that had lost his mother (who either abandoned them or died), we don’t really know of any traumatic experiences he had before we got him.
Since he was out on the street for the first 3 months of his life and not around humans in a household it makes it less likely he has encountered many brooms, but we cannot rule it out in his individual case.
3) It Is an Alien Object That Creates Unease
Cats like all animals react on instinct that comes from thousands of years of evolution + personal experience. Your cat loves it when you mimic the movements of prey in nature with a toy during playtime because this plays to their instincts.
Humans have a greater contextual understanding of a broom sweeping the floor. When we see a broom, we know what it is, why we need to use it, and we expect it to be used in a sweeping motion and produce a certain sound. To a cat, a broom is, therefore, an alien object that does not resemble what they are used to in nature, and we can theorize that this causes fear or at the very least discomfort for a cat.
How to stop your cat from being scared of the broom
For this part, we will rely on an expert to explain how to proceed at removing the fear:
Don’t do anything with the broom near that cat for now. We will be working on that.
First, wait for the cat to be relaxed.
Then, approach him (or wait for him to approach you) and give him something he likes (there are cat rewards you can buy, which my cat’s addicted to). This makes him more confident near you.
After a while, get your broom with you and wait for him to be relaxed again or with you.
Put the broom far from the cat, but make it likely to him to see it. When he looks at the broom reward him.
Meanwhile, get the broom closer and closer. If done well, the cat fear will disappear.
If the cat fear is not to the broom, but to the sound of using it, make a second person do the sound in presence of the cat and use the same approachment system to make him lose the fear.
Nick Gutierrez – Expert in animal behavior over at https://animal.cat/