This point has not been discussed as far as I am aware. The potential problem came to me this morning. We know that nearly all domestic cats are frightened of vacuum cleaners because of the noise they make. To a domestic cat they can look like a hostile, noisy predator.
And pushing the vacuum cleaner around is their owner. Visually they are connected which leads me to ask if their cat connects the two? What I mean is do they connect the hostility of the vacuum cleaner with the owner who I will presume is a kind and decent cat caregiver?
If so do they perceive vacuuming as a form of punishment to them? They might because it’s very similar to spraying a cat with water. If a cat sees their owner spraying water at them as a punishment they can connect the discomfort of being sprayed with water with their human caregiver and companion.
It would seem reasonable to presume that this may damage the relationship. Does vacuuming with a standard vacuum cleaner inadvertently damage the relationship in a very minor way without the owner realising it?
I don’t know the answer to that. From my observations it appears not to, but sometimes subtle things can happen which are unobtrusive and which may be having an impact upon your cat without you being aware of it.
Let’s say that a standard vacuum cleaner might have a negative impact upon the human-cat relationship for the reason stated. Incidentally I try and vacuum when my cat is outside which is obviously impossible for full-time indoor cats.
One advantage of a robotic vacuum cleaner is that it is freestanding. From a cat’s perspective it is a free agent. It’s a genuine ‘predator’ roaming around the living room floor on autopilot. The cat just steers clear of it if they are one of those many cats who are frightened of vacuum cleaners. It should be added that I’ve seen a domestic cat riding on a robotic vacuum cleaner as if on a rollerboard!
The video below shows a cat riding on a vacuum cleaner while wearing a tight fitting shirt. The shirt that this cat is wearing is the reason why the cat falls off the vacuum cleaner passively. It has the same effect as a mother grabbing her kitten by the scruff of his neck in her jaws when transporting them to a new den. That’s incidental to this article but it is quite interesting nonetheless.
For the robot vacuum cleaner, from the cat’s perspective, there will be no connection between that nasty hostile creature that they don’t understand and their owner. If they do perceive vacuuming as a form of punishment then the robotic vacuum cleaner will be a form of ‘uncomfortable divine intervention’ instead which is much better.
There is a difference between negative reinforcement as delivered by divine intervention and punishment. In punishment the cat sees their owner punishing them which, incidentally, they can’t understand which is why it doesn’t work. Negative reinforcement is when you spray a cat with water (for instance) to stop them doing something but the cat does not see that jet of water coming from the owner. It comes out of the blue as if it is an act of God – divine intervention. The experience becomes uncomfortable which is why they will tend to stop doing something which the owner regards as bad behaviour.
It is just a thought. Using a standard vacuum cleaner may be a form of cat punishment while a robat vacuum cleaner might be a form of negative reinforcement. Both will nearly always be undirected, however.
SOME MORE ON PUNISHMENT:
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I hit my cat very hard a couple times for biting my new kitten very badly. Now he walks away when I touch him. What should I do?