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Why Are Cats Afraid of Balloons?

Why Are Cats Afraid of Balloons?

Sometimes our cats seem like completely fearless little warriors! Bravely taking on loose shoelaces, crumpled up paper, or anything else that dangles or crinkles.

Other times, our cats show us exactly where the phrase “scardey cat” comes from and seem to have irrational fears of some of the most unexpected items.

One of the most popular are balloons and it’s not common to hear about a cat that completely loses their mind at the sight of a balloon.

But why are cats afraid of balloons? While they might not seem like it to us, balloons may look like flying predators to our cats who have to be careful to avoid owls and other birds of prey. When combining this concern with the weird movements and strange sounds balloons make it’s no surprise that many cats are more than cautious. 

Want to learn more about why globophobia (yep, that’s the fear of balloons) is so common with our feline friends?

Keep reading as we look at 4 possible reasons why our cats are afraid of balloons.

Reason 1: Ballons Look Like Predators

Okay, so it might seem like a stretch to imagine our cats confusing a brightly colored globe with a dangerous predator but instinct is powerful. Cat’s that are afraid of balloons aren’t taking the time to analyze the balloon; instead, they just know there’s something moving and flying around their home base and it’s time to hide.

But why would cats be afraid of a flying animal in the first place- don’t they eat birds?

Yes, but not balloon-sized birds! It’s very easy to forget that our cats aren’t just predators- they’re also prey. Even though our domestic cats may look like apex predators when we see them stalking a shoelace or tracking down a toy mouse, in the wild they always have to be careful of becoming the next meal for larger predators.

That includes flying predators like owls, eagles, and hawks. Sadly, owls are especially well-known for targeting cats and it’s just another reason (on a long list of reasons) to keep your cat indoors.

Not only are balloons flying and roughly the same size as an owl or many other predatory birds, but balloons are also slowly moving with the air currents. Of course, this movement is far from the swooping motion of an attacking hawk, but it’s still not the fluttering movement of a prey animal either. Some balloons look downright confident as they make sharp movements along the wind currents- even if it’s just because someone closed a door.

Balloons are basically a UFO to our cats and our feline friends aren’t ready to stick around and see if these unidentified flying objects are friendly or not!

Reason 2: Balloons Make Very Strange Sounds

As if being a UFO wasn’t enough to make balloons frightening for cats, these unusual flying objects are also capable of making some very strange noises.

The one that stands out the most to me, is the screeching noise that occurs when you rub your hand against the balloon.

It sounds like this:

You’ve probably seen your cat perk up when a strange noise is made already. I know that if I’m watching a show with an unusual sound or someone in the room makes a funny noise my cat will take an interest. While it’s usually a fleeting interest, it should be no surprise that strange noises combined with the perception of a threat will hold our cat’s attention!

Then there the noises that we can’t even hear. Our cats have an exceptional ability to hear sounds across a wide range of frequencies. From deep low-frequency sounds to high-pitched ultrasonic sounds our cats can hear it all and according to one study our felines actually have “one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals.” We talked about this in detail when we explained whether or not cats can hear dog whistles (they can) but it’s just as relevant here.

While it’s impossible to say exactly what our cats are hearing, we know that they’re hearing a lot more than we are and this only adds to the confusion and fear around balloons.

Reason 3: The POP!

While the sounds that a balloon makes when it moves around the house or in your hands are frightening on their own it’s nothing compared to the big POP that a balloon can make.

There are two likely scenarios where your cat will be exposed to a popping balloon and both are terrifying for most cats.

First, consider what age group is most likely to have balloons? Kids!

And are children well known for being calm, careful, and cool around a very poppable balloon? Absolutely not!

If your cat has ever been around a child and a balloon that popped, they got to see the strange movements, hear the weird screeching noises, and eventually experience the startling pop. If your cat wasn’t already afraid of balloons that would probably be enough for most cats to consider them some kind of monster in the future.

Then there are the cats that were brave enough to approach the balloon. They were able to get past the weird movements and strange noise. Maybe the balloon slowly sank to the ground over a few days and the cat decided it was safe to approach.

But just when they started to think that their balloon fear was a bit out of proportion…the thing explodes on them!

Your cat isn’t looking to explain this and if you really think about it, it’s actually a bit surprising that a balloon makes a loud pop noise at all instead of just deflating.

Your cat doesn’t care about the science behind it and instead, they just know that balloons are scary and the big pop of the balloon isn’t something they’ll likely soon forget.

Reason 4: Static Electricity

While probably a factor for some cats, this is the least likely explanation which is why I put it last on this list. It’s safe to say that most cats will avoid balloons the second they see them floating in the air and never even get close enough to experience any static electricity.

Still, static shocks seem to be just another weird trick that balloons have up their sleeve when it comes to scaring cats.

If you want to learn more about how static electricity works (along with a fun experiment) you can check out this article, but it’s probably safe to say that you’ve experienced it before. Balloons are well known for being a powerful medium for static electricity and it’s not unusual for a cat’s first tentative sniff to end in a sudden shock!

While that alone probably wouldn’t completely terrify a cat, it does add to the overall negative experience for cats. I can say that I’m startled by static electricity when it happens to me and I actually (kinda) understand what’s happening. I can’t imagine how our cats must feel!

Balloons Don’t Fit Into Any Category

While not a reason on its own, it’s important to realize that balloons just don’t fit into any category that our cats are familiar with. Weird jerky movements, strange noises, and the ability to explode at random are all characteristics that our cats wouldn’t exactly be familiar with in the wild.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that our cats would fear the unknown or at least anything large and flying. Psychology Today elaborates on this idea by explaining, “Many animals are genetically programmed to fear their predators. Mice naturally fear cats; fish naturally fear birds. These fears don’t have to be learned, they are inborn—the product of natural selective forces that rewarded such fears in the evolutionary past.”

In other words, cats that were naturally afraid of larger flying things were more likely to benefit from natural selection than those fearless felines that ignored the possible threat!

It Probably Isn’t The Smell

Some folks have suggested that cats don’t like the rubbery or plastic smell of balloons but that’s unlike the reason why cats are afraid of balloons.

We’ve written a lot about why cats like the smell of rubber and plastic. Heck, most cats go crazy over rubber bands and hair ties so they probably aren’t picky about the smell of a balloon!

While rubber and plastic are different, they have some similarities, and many use animal products as part of the manufacturing process. Our noses won’t be able to pick up on this but our cat’s certainly can and in most cases, they seem to be a fan!

Do Balloons Present Any Real Danger to Cats?

Yes, balloons can be dangerous to our cats but not in the way our felines seem to think.

The biggest risk when it comes to balloons is ingestion and the rubber or latex material can easily get stuck in a cat’s digestive tract. Blockages like these are serious conditions and often require surgery.

In this case, your cat’s fear of balloons is a good thing, and hopefully you never have to worry about this.

Is It Just Cats That Are Afraid of Balloons?

Nope, it’s not just our cats that are afraid of balloons!

However, I’m happy to report that there are no studies (that I’m aware of) reviewing which animals are afraid of balloons but it’s a fair assumption that species with any history of being threatened by flying predators would have the potential to be afraid of balloons.

It’s also likely that many animals will be afraid of balloons simply because they are so unusual. For example, larger breed dogs don’t have to worry about being scooped up by an owl but they’ll still have a natural instinct to avoid the unknown- especially when it’s flying.

Should I Worry About My Cat’s Fear of Balloons?

I’m guessing most people have found their way here after they’ve witnessed their cat’s reaction to a balloon.

So should you be worried about your cat’s fear of balloons?

For the most part, this fear isn’t a big deal and the solution is just to avoid bringing home balloons which I can’t imagine would be an issue for most people. However, the initial shock of the balloons can be so strong for some cats that they may have long-lasting fear of a specific area.

I’ve even heard from folks with cats that have decided to stay in one room all day just to avoid the potential of encountering another balloon.

But for most cats, this fear won’t last long, and eventually, they’ll realize that the balloon threat is gone. You can use positive reinforcement techniques like treats to slowly encourage your cat to enter the area they’re afraid of but avoid pushing them too far out of their comfort zone.

Unfortunately, you can’t explain to your cat that balloons aren’t a threat so patience will be extremely important here.

Closing Thoughts

While it might seem silly at first, our cat’s fear of balloons almost seems logical when you really break it down.

While it can be risky to anthropomorphize too much, some cats may see balloons as flying, floating predators that occasionally explode. Yeah, I’d be terrified too!

What about your cats?

Is your feline friend one of the brave ones that happily tries to learn more about the balloon or did you make the mistake of bringing home a balloon to a frightened kitty?