Why do cats hate tin foil?

Cat walking on tin foil
Cat walking on tin foil. Screenshot from video.
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Why do cats hate tin foil? Well, we shouldn’t generalise because some domestic cats are not fazed by tin foil (or only slightly so) but typically they are. The reason is that tin foil is a strange surface and object. It is very reflective. It looks almost like water. And it is noisy. It makes a strange sound, when walked on or moved, with which cats are unfamiliar.

My personal experience with my cat is that he is very frightened of the sound of tinfoil rustling. He does not need to see it; it is the sound alone which frightens him causing him to dive under the bed. I have concluded that it is because deep in his DNA he has inherited a fear of this sort of sound which probably originates in the sound of the rattlesnake or other reptiles. It is hard to believe that it could be as specific as a rattlesnake so perhaps it would be the hissing of snakes in general which the rustling up tinfoil replicates.

The problem for cats is a lack of familiarity with tin foil. This is particularly the case because tin foil when placed on surfaces such as floors or counter tops is very different to the surface that cats usually walk on. The stark contrast startles them.

The same problem occurs with any strange object. Do you remember the spate of YouTube videos of domestic cats jumping out of their skin when a banana was placed behind them without them noticing?

Cats are familiar with the kitchen counter and walk on it without any concern provided the human allows it! If you place some tin foil on the counter your cat will normally be scared of it and jump off, sometimes violently. When a cat suddenly encounters a large, strange object covering a large part of a surface that is usually walked on a cat will jump away from it with energy to avoid danger. Cats need to check out new objects and surfaces before going near it or on it in the interests of their welfare.

But give a cat time and they will get used to tin foil. They’ll discover that it does not pose a threat to them. There is a nice video which proves the point. The cat in the video has no option but to walk on the tin foil if they want to move forward which they firmly want to do. The cat sniffs the foil and touches it with their toes but recoils for a while until they are satisfied that the tin foil is safe to walk on at which point the cat’s fear subsides and they gingerly walk on a surface that was once anathema to them (see picture on this page).

Conclusion: cats hate tin foil because it is a fear of the unknown. And foil has some special and almost unique qualities in terms of the noise it makes and its reflective properties which are off-putting for a domestic cat until they get used to the stuff. It may take time. The crackling sound it makes is a little like the sound of a rattle snake. That snake-like sound may be a factor to the domestic cat as imbedded in their DNA are the memories of their wild cat ancestor, the North African wildcat.

The reaction will vary for the simple reason that the character of domestic cats varies considerably from timid to confident. Clearly timid cats will be more anxious about tin foil than a bolder, more confident cat.

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