Causes and Treatment of Ailurophobia

02 December, 2020
Felines are controversial creatures. Some people love them, some hate them, and some even fear them. Ailurophobia, the fear of cats, may not be as common as the fear of dogs, but it's just as limiting in many instances. Continue reading to learn more about the characteristics of this fear and its possible causes!

Many people suffer from ailurophobia. It could be due to the fact that cats are the protagonists of legends and even of terrifying stories, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale, The Black Cat. It’s true that these mysterious creatures are highly intelligent, curious, and agile. Nevertheless, this fear is real and rather limiting.

To talk about phobias is to delve into a world that’s as mundane as it is unique. In fact, this condition is one of the most common psychiatric disorders. It’s an irrational fear that may or may not hinder a person’s performance in their daily life. A clear difficulty in finding the origin of such fears is a characteristic that defines this condition.

In 1914, American psychologist G. Stanley Hall published his now-famous study on the genetics of fear in the American Journal of Psychology. In it, he identified 136 phobias. The list is much more extensive now. The reference of the study of ailurophobia or fear of cats was American neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell, who began to collect all possible information to better understand this type of phobia in 1902.

His research put into context the current knowledge on this condition.

“Cats don’t need to be possessed; they’re evil on their own.”

-Peter Kreeft-

A cat on a bed.

What’s ailurophobia? What causes it?

In 1791, a jury ruled that a cat was the culprit in the death of a baby in Plymouth, England. The judge ruled that the animal had “absorbed” the child’s breath, following the command of a witch. This era was defined by ignorance and fanaticism and people associated felines with evil.

Some people point out that irrational fears are often nourished by atavistic fears, so common since the beginning of time. Ailurophobia could be one of them, although it isn’t clear. However, neurologist Silas Weir Mitchell explained that this type of condition has some specific characteristics.

For starters, a person who irrationally fears cats doesn’t have the same reaction with all types of cats. In other words, they don’t seem to mind lynxes, tigers, lions, etc. They may go to zoos and even like these creatures. Still, they’re unable to come close to a domestic cat.

There are times when they may even panic when an animal isn’t even physically there but locked up in a room so as to keep it away from a phobic person.

How does this type of phobia manifest?

Phobias manifest in many ways and with various degrees of intensity. That is, not everyone who’s afraid of a cat will react the same way. However, these symptoms are common:

Emotional reactions

  • Aversion to and rejection of cats.
  • The fear leads to the avoidance of anyone who has one of these pets.
  • Also, the fear is intense and paralyzing.
  • It’s also common for these people to be angry when they realize others don’t understand them.

Cognitive reactions (thoughts)

  • An inability to think about anything else when a cat is nearby because they can only focus on it.
  • Paranoia strikes as the cat-phobic person visualizes all sorts of everyday situations in which a cat may appear. Thus, walking down a street or entering certain buildings is distressing.
  • There are times when the mere sound of a cat makes an ailurophobic person think they’re coming to get them.

Physiological symptoms

Causes of ailurophobia

The origin of phobias is nonspecific. That is, it isn’t always easy to determine what causes or feeds them. However, you can consider the following triggers of ailurophobia.

  • Negative past experiences with cats. Being scratched or bitten by these animals at some point in childhood can trigger a traumatic memory.
  • Fears can be passed down from parents to children, and all it takes is a parent who shows repulsion towards cats for their offspring to develop a phobia.
  • In most cases, a fear of cats arises for no particular reason.
A woman with Ailurophobia.

Every phobia, whatever it may be, originates due to anxiety, a condition where irrational fears, distorted thoughts, uncontrolled emotions, and behavior beyond one’s control intermingle. Therefore, a person that’s too limited by ailurophobia must seek specialized help.

The coping strategy is usually based on the following techniques:

  • Exposure therapy. In this case, a person must seek closeness to stimuli (cats in this case) that make them anxious. This is mainly to mediate cognitive and emotional reactions.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most suitable to enable a person to effectively manage their phobia. They can detect maladaptive thoughts, regulate emotions, and incorporate more adjusted behaviors through it.
  • Relaxation and breathing techniques are also appropriate in these situations.

To conclude, this phobia may not be as common as the fear of dogs but can be quite debilitating. After all, cats are popular pets and freely roam around the streets. Thus, treating it is key to a better life.

  • André, C. (2006). Psicología del miedo. Temores, angustias y fobias. Barcelona. Editorial Kairós.
  • Bourne, E. J. (2005). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, 4ª ed. New Harbinger Publications.
  • Louis S. London, M.D. (1952). Ailurophobia and ornithophobia. The Psychiatric Quarterly 26: 365-371.
  • S. Weir Mitchell, M.D. (1905). Of ailurophobia and the power to be conscious of the cat as near, when unseen and unheard. Transactions of the Association of American Physicians 20: 4-14.