The idea of anyone being fearful of cats is difficult to imagine if one is a cat lover. However, suffering ailurophobia (cat phobia) is more common than you might think. Unless treated, ailurophobia can limit a person's social life as he/she may not want to go to the home of someone who owns a cat. They may be afraid of going for a walk in case they come across a cat. The phobia can be treated, usually with help from a professional.
Image by Marie Vonow
Names for cat phobia The most commonly used name for cat phobia is ailurophobia. Ailouros is Greek for cat and phobus means fear or dread. Galeophobia is another name and this also comes from the Greek language. Galemacr is another word for cats. The Spanish word for cats is gato and hence the word gatophobia, yet another name for this phobia.
Causes of cat phobia Many phobias stem from a frightening experience in childhood, especially the early years when a child feels most vulnerable. Cats do have sharp teeth and claws and are capable of inflicting a nasty wound.
Cats have sharp teeth. Image courtesy of Pixabay
A child may have been bitten or scratched by a cat. Perhaps the wound became infected requiring a trip to the doctor and an injection or medication. The cat may have had an unpleasant personality and a tendency to scratch and bite.
A person may develop ailurophobia after seeing someone they are close to get bitten or scratched. Perhaps they saw footage of a vicious attack on television or the Internet.
Although I love cats I can understand a child being frightened by a cat under certain circumstances. There is a black cat that tends to stalk me when I take my chihuahua for a walk. I find this unnerving. It stares at us with its yellow eyes and I wouldn't be surprised if it pounced at my little dog. I could understand a child, especially a sensitive one, developing a phobia.
Black cats also have a reputation of being witches' cats. This may cause fear in an imaginative and sensitive child. Image by Marie Vonow
If a child's main caregiver is frightened of cats, this fear can be passed on.
Symptoms of ailurophobia The following can be symptoms of the phobia -
Intense fear of cats which may extend to images, movies or thoughts of cats
Running away upon seeing a cat
Being unable to move if confronted by a cat
Avoidance of places known to have a cat
Crying or screaming upon seeing a cat
Needing someone to accompany them when leaving home in case they see a cat
Panic attacks which may include trembling, sweating, difficulty breathing, tight chest, nausea and even vomiting.
Effects of cat phobia on a person's life If a person suffers ailurophobia it can limit their social life. They may avoid visiting anyone who has a cat and that is likely to include family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and people from social groups they belong to. Cats are a common pet and it is estimated 29% of Australian households own at least one cat.
Children may not want to go to the homes of their friends and avoid sleepovers. Their friends may not understand their fear.
Those who love their pet cat may not understand the fear others may have. Image courtesy of Pixabay
Treatments for ailurophobia There are treatments for ailurophobia. A therapist may use one of the following or a combination :
Exposure therapy. This involves gradually exposing the person to cats, possibly starting with pictures and movies of cats or toy cats and progressing to looking at and then touching a real cat.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is a therapy which concentrates on altering negative thoughts. The therapist is likely to encourage the person to talk about how the phobia developed. This should help release some of the strain around the event which triggered the phobia. The therapist then moves on to helping the person replace their negative thoughts with positive ones.
Medication. If the person is having panic attacks, medication may help. It may be used in conjunction with another form of therapy.
Individual therapists will have their own approach and how they treat ailurophobia will depend on the individual patient.
If you know someone with ailurophobia try to understand their fear and don't ridicule them. Provide support and if they are unable to overcome their phobia, suggest they talk to their doctor and get a referral to a therapist who can work with them to cure this phobia.
I found this an interesting article, having suffered from a phobia myself, and having been cured of it by informal but careful exposure therapy. I'm all cured of the snake phobia now, but I'm smart enough to still be wary around snakes I encounter outside! If I saw a snake outside of my house, on or around our place, the snake would most likely be a brown snake, which can be deadly if you're bitten and not treated for the bite ...
Thank you for your comments, Carolyn. It is encouraging to hear from someone who has overcome a phobia. However, as you point out, it is important to maintain a sensible attitude to creatures and situations that pose a real risk to one's life.