The vacuum cleaner is something that is brought out of the closet on a regular basis in most homes. For some cats, this is no big deal but for many, fear of the vacuum cleaner can trigger total panic. Even if a cat has lived in the home with that dreaded vacuum cleaner year after year, the sight and/or sound of it can continue to trigger fearful reactions.
Why are Many Cats Afraid of the Vacuum?
The loud sound, along with the movement can be very frightening. From a cat’s point of view, this monster goes on a rampage around the house, following him from room to room. In many cases, cats end up feeling trapped because they may be sleeping or hiding in a particular room and then someone comes in with the vacuum, blocking the escape route.
How Can You Help Your Cat to not Fear the Vacuum?
If you have a kitten, desensitizing him to the sound and presence of the vacuum in a gradual and non-scary way will greatly increase your chances of raising him into an adult cat who won’t have negative reactions on cleaning day. With kittens, gradual exposure to sights and sounds will be beneficial in helping them become less-reactive and fearful as adults.
If your cat is an adult and is already afraid of the vacuum, you can still desensitize him to its presence but he may always remain somewhat concerned whenever it gets too close to him. You don’t have to get to the point of having your cat sleep totally undisturbed while you vacuum just inches from him, but it will greatly lower his anxiety level if you can at least get to the point where he doesn’t hide under the bed in total panic.
Step One: The first step involves merely leaving the vacuum cleaner out. If you’re dealing with an adult cat, then just this first step will be scary enough at first. Leave the vacuum out and reward your cat for being in the room with it. Reward him for walking by it. Reward him for walking closer to it. Reward him for sniffing it. I use clicker training for this process but you can easily do it by just rewarding the cat for not running away when the vacuum is out.
Leave the vacuum cleaner out for several days. Periodically move it to another room (never move it too close to your cat’s special areas where he eats, sleeps or near the litter box). Keep rewarding your cat for not reacting to the vacuum.
Step Two: Turn the vacuum on in another room. If you have another family member in the house, let them run the vacuum in another room while you give your cat a treat or play with your cat. This will help your cat get used to the sound at a distance comfortable enough for him. If you live alone, turn the vacuum on in another room for just a brief time (to prevent any over-heating or damage).
Step Three: Take the vacuum out but before turning it on, let it sit in the room for a moment. This way, if your cat is somewhere in the room, he’ll have enough notice to move away. Run the vacuum facing away from the cat. Keep treats in your pocket so you can toss them out if your kitty stays in the same room. Keep the session short.