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My cats are pretty stereotypically afraid of my vacuum. As soon as they see me getting ready to use it, they'll jump up. The second it gets turned on, they're bolting to the other room.

I watch movies and play video games that make sudden loud noises, so it doesn't seem likely to me that the vacuum is scary because it's loud. Is there something else about the noise that's scary? I was thinking maybe the frequency was at a certain level that only bothers cats, like how humans can't hear dog whistles.

What is it about vacuums that are so scary?

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    it's noisy, very noisy; and a very different noise than video games: continued vs. sudden – ratchet freak Feb 27 '14 at 9:33
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    My cat isnt. My breeder delibarlty vacummed and kept the litter in noisy and busy environment during the day. He is about 8 months now.. vacuum? storms? explosions? Nothing moves him, calm as ever. I almost thought he was deaf at one stage.. but he is not :) – Piotr Kula Feb 27 '14 at 11:04
  • Well, there goes my theory @ppumpkin! I'd figured that because cats can hear in different ranges than us, there was something to the frequencies a vacuum puts out that bothers them. That might still be an issue: I used to play trombone, and despite daily practice, the cats would vanish while I was practicing and only return once the 'bone was put away. – Kate Paulk Feb 27 '14 at 12:03
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    Fun side note to add to the trombone/noise sensitivity: my cats run from the vacuum, but they will stay and wail while I play saxophone (like crying in utter despair to make me stop playing). It's probably related to the similarity to their meowing range - I wonder if they think I'm "cat wailing" so they share in what they perceive is my "distress". lol – Jenothy Feb 28 '14 at 17:20
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    The other scary thing about the vaccuum is that it crashes around in their walking space making all that racket. – Oldcat Mar 1 '14 at 1:20
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Most vacuum cleaners emit a white-noise like sound - this encompasses a wide range of frequencies, including higher pitches. Most animals are startled by it at loud ranges. Given the volume of most vacuums, it is startling for most cats.

As a previous poster noted, it's possible to train a cat (or dog) to become accustomed to some sounds if done from an early age and consistently. Due to physical differences in sensitivity, it would appear this has a differing impact on cats across the board.

I have three cats that are terrified of any vacuum. I have a friend whose cat begged to BE vacuumed given it's long hair and, essentially, the lazy bathing from the process.

To further test, I would recommend using sounds of similar frequency (other mechnical objects) to see if it has the same impact. If you have a decibel meter (or a smartphone app) you can also see if the cat is startled by similarly loud sounds. You would have to measure distance, environment, etc. also to see if it's more about the loudness than the frequencies.

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  • In my experience, it's definitely an issue of noise. From what I can tell, deaf cats generally aren't bothered by vacuums. – symbol Feb 27 '14 at 20:45
  • I'd concur with this, my cat's utterly terrified of them and I think it's something to do with the particular noise spectrum as he's not at all bothered by the washing machine spinning or the Kenwood Chef on full speed making cake batter. Or possibly before I got him he had a bad encounter with the active end of a vacuum cleaner hose and now associates the noise with that... – Matthew Walton Apr 11 '14 at 13:55
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This is an agreement / elaboration on the other people who said it is "noisy" (ratchet freak, Jenothy, symbol)... cats have a more sensitive sense of hearing then we do. Can you hear someone pop the plastic reaseal lid on a can of cat food when one floor up or down (probably not)? A vacuum to them is like a jet engine to us. In general most (not all) cats can't stand it. The ones who do put up with it are usually (not always) older cats who have sustained hearing loss due to the aging process.

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