The Harmful Interactions with Cats on TikTok: Prevalence, Impact, and Viewer Response

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Cats are the stars of the internet, initially as personal social media fodder and, more recently, as unlikely comedians. Among the many phenomena TikTok spawned, the “cat reaction video” is one of the most efficient. Cute cat + cheeky TikToker = instant reaction. This genre of social share packs it all in just a few seconds.

Popular cat provocations include dressing up a cat or surprising it with an unfamiliar object — as was the case with the cat + cucumber craze that hit the net a few years back. “Some people believe that cucumbers look like a snake, which is a predator that has been known to attack and even eat cats, ” according to Claudine Sievert, DVM. “Cats see an elongated green object and think it’s a snake, so they run from it.”

In addition to direct physical harm, such incidents can cause emotional trauma to a pet, which in turn creates a heightened sense of anxiety that can affect its bladder and bowel control.

But how prevalent is the issue? Protect My Paws analyzed hundreds of TikTok videos to find out how many show harmful interactions with cats, what kinds of interactions are most common and how viewers are responding.

Key Findings

26% of all cat-related TikTok videos involve harmful interactions with cats.

  • 5% of the cat videos analyzed involve cats in harmful accidents or being petted aggressively.
  • 8% of cat videos involve covering up a cat’s key senses with clothing or other objects.
  • The average number of likes for a harmful cat TikTok is 1,162,322.

Credit Information: Produced by Protect My Paws 

The Methodology Behind This Study

To find out how often TikTok videos show harmful interactions with cats, we manually reviewed 650 cat-related videos on TikTok under the hashtags: #cattok, #catsoftiktok, #catfails, #catfail, #catdressup and #funnycat. Examples include cat compliation videos and original uploads from TikTok users.

Within each video, we checked for instances of interactions either between a human and a cat or from a human filming a cat where the cat is distressed, uncomfortable or harmed by the interaction or at risk of being so from the events that occur with them in the video. We considered up to 12 types of interaction as potentially harmful, which have been identified by experts at the RSPCA, PetMD, Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital, The Pet Health Network and the Safe Haven of Iowa County.

These interactions can be broadly categorized under inappropriate physical interactions, using inappropriate clothing to dress the cat or inappropriate objects for them to interact with, and making loud noises near a cat that startle them.

To help judge whether the interactions in some videos were harmful, we consulted guides from the RSPCA and to identify typical signs of stress, anger or worry in the cats.

For any video that showed at least one example of the 12 interactions, we also collected data on how many likes and views the video had received from TikTok users.

The videos for this research were collected and analyzed during March 2023.

10 Things Humans Do That Cats Don’t Enjoy

Curious, spontaneous and independent, cats have a mind of their own but make for the purr-fect pet if you love and care for them properly. While not all cats are the same, there are common behaviors that we humans display around our feline friends that they secretly (and not so secretly) hate. Avoid these ten habits on a regular basis, and you’ll have a happy cat that will be comfortable in your home.

1: Making sudden loud noises

A cat’s ears are three times more sensitive than those of a human and are able to hear sounds up to 64 kHz, according to a study from Louisiana State University [1]. While noise pollution is an inevitable part of life with a domesticated animal, moving your cat away from noisy areas can help them feel more relaxed [2].

Pro Tip: Lauren Demos, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, recommends locating litter boxes away from the furnace or water softener, which can sometimes produce noises at unpredictable times [3].

2: Startling them deliberately

While accidental fright is inevitable with cats sometimes, deliberately startling them with jump scares and other jarring objects, such as the viral ice cube trend from TikTok in 2022 [4], causes distress for the cat.

Pro Tip: Dr. Frank McMillan, Director of Well-Being Studies for Best Friends Animal Society, points out that deliberately scaring a cat in a physical way can trigger anxiety in the cat. Animals want to feel safe in their own home, so McMillan suggests instilling that sense of comfort in how you treat them [5].

3: Dressing them up in restrictive clothing

It can be tempting to dress your cat up in cute outfits, especially around the holidays. But cats are nimble animals, and any costume that restricts their senses and movement can potentially be harmful to their well-being.

Pro Tip: The RSPCA in the UK recommends the following guidelines when putting your cats in costumes [6].

  1. Make sure your pet can still behave normally and use their body to tell us, and other animals, how they’re feeling.
  2. Introduce your pet to the clothing gradually and for short periods.
  3. Always supervise your pet while they’re in their clothing, to avoid them getting trapped, hurting themselves, or overheating.
  4. Become familiar with the signs your pet uses when they’re happy so you can check that the clothing isn’t making your pet uncomfortable, worried or anxious.

4: Spraying strong-smelling substances

Cats have 200 million sensory receptors in their noses, and their sense of smell is 14 times better than that of a human, according to Cats International [7]. While we like to make our homes smell nice with candles and diffusers, cats may find the smell offensive or even harmful.

Pro Tip: Pet poison experts at VCA Animal Hospitals suggest that humans avoid buying liquid potpourri products and essential oils, including oil of cinnamon, citrus, pennyroyal, peppermint, pine, sweet birch, tea tree (melaleuca), wintergreen and ylang ylang, which are poisonous to cats [8].

5: Forced physical interaction

So don’t take kindly to forced social interactions. Holding them against their will is cruel and should be avoided at all costs as a pet owner. Veterinarian Wendy Houser points out that although “cats enjoy human attention, they like it in smaller doses than dogs, and on their own terms. Owners

should respect this basic need of their feline friends and never force attention on them”[9].

Pro Tip: Psychology Today suggests learning to recognize your cat’s body language for signs that they may be uncomfortable, such as a twitchy tail, enlarged pupils or pulling back of their ears [10].

6: Taking them on long journeys in their carry box

Cats are creatures of habit, so it’s no surprise that they hate being moved into their carry box. While it’s often necessary for vet trips, keeping your cat calm and stress-free is vital when traveling with them.

Pro Tip: Battersea Cats Home recommends always securing your cat inside a cat carrier, with a soft fleece blanket resting on top of it for security [11].

7: Rubbing their tummy

Experienced owners will know that there are certain parts of a cat’s body where they hate being petted. Their tummies are no exception, and owners should be careful when petting their cats in this area.

Pro Tip: Lena Provost, an animal behavioral psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that cats have sensitive hair follicles on their tail and abdomen and are especially sensitive to touch in these areas. She suggests focusing your affection on a cat’s head, scratching it gently under their chin and cheeks [12].

8: Not cleaning their litter box often enough

You wouldn’t feel comfortable using a dirty toilet, and cats are no different. While they can be picky when it comes to cat litter, cats will avoid their box if it isn’t clean, putting your pet at risk of UTIs and other infections.

Pro Tip: The ASPCA recommends scooping and changing your cat’s litter box at least once a day, with one to two inches of clean, clumping, unscented litter — a preference for most cats [13].

9: Staring at them

Body language is extremely important to cats, and prolonged staring is an act of hostility in the feline world. While it’s good to make eye contact with your cat to make it feel comfortable, the ‘hard stare’ is to be avoided.

Pro Tip: The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals suggests the “slow blink” — exaggerating blinking at your cat as a way of expressing love over aggression [14].

10: Bathing them

Cats are excellent at keeping themselves clean, with tongues designed to help them groom with ease. For this reason, vets rarely recommend bathing cats, and their sensitivity to water makes the experience particularly stressful.

Pro Tip: Instead, the ASPCA suggests weekly grooming sessions with your cat, with a brush to remove dead hair and tangles to prevent hairballs and to check for fleas and ticks [15].


Cats are the chosen furry companion for some 373 Million people worldwide, according to World Atlas. And while some cats are more sociable than others, nothing quite beats the feeling of earning your cats affection. Take the time to get to know your new friend, knowing what they do like starts with learning what they don’t!



  1. Strain, G. (2017). How Well Do Dogs and Other Animals Hear?
  2. O’Brien, C. (2018). Top Cat Pet Peeves: What Cats Hate.
  3. PetMD Editorial. (2017). 5 Things That Stress Out Your Cat.
  4. Fowler, K. (2022). Cat Experts Warn Against Viral Ice Cube TikTok Trend: ‘Shouldn’t Be Done’.

  1. Lotz, K. (2015). Cats Vs. Cucumbers: Vet Explains Why It’s Not Good To Scare Your Cat For Fun.

  1. Ockelford, O. (2020). 7 ways to ethically dress your pet on #DressUpYourPetDay.
  2. Cats International. (2023). The Amazing Sense of Smell.
  3. Schmid, R., Brutlag, A., Flint, C. (2018). Essential Oil and Liquid Potpourri Poisoning in Cats.

  1. Mitrokostas, S. (2020). Experts reveal 13 things you should never do to your cat.
  2. Todd, Z. (2021). Why Petting Can Make Some Cats Aggressive.
  3. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home. (2023). Travelling With Cats.
  4. Langley, L. (2019). Here’s why cats hate belly rubs so much.
  5. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (2023). Litter Box Problems.
  6. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. (2023). 5 things you do that your cat secretly hates.

  1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (2023). Cat Grooming Tips.

About Protect My Paws:

Protect My Paws is an independent publication run by a team of animal lovers whose ultimate goal is to help other pet owners avoid pet insurance and pet health products that are not as good as they say they are.

In addition to sharing informative articles about pet behavior, animal facts and pet health, the Protect My Paws team also publishes original research offering insight into pet ownership, animal rights, pet breeds, and other topics that engage their readers.

About NeoMam Studios

Founded in 2011 in the UK, NeoMam Studios is a creative studio on a mission to create

digital content that online audiences will want to share for months and years to come. NeoMam was commissioned by Protect My Paws to produce and promote this project on their behalf.

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