Ailurophobia describes an intense fear of cats that’s strong enough to cause panic and anxiety when around or thinking about cats. This specific phobia is also known as elurophobia, gatophobia, and felinophobia.
If you’ve ever been bitten or scratched by a cat, you might feel nervous around them. Or, you may simply dislike cats. In either case, you probably won’t go out of your way to interact with them, and you likely won’t spend too much worrying about them.
A phobia goes beyond mild fear or dislike. If you have ailurophobia, you might spend a lot of time worrying about encountering cats and thinking about ways to avoid them. This can have a big effect on your daily life, especially given the popularity of cats as pets.
The main symptom of ailurophobia is extreme fear when seeing or hearing a cat. Even looking at cartoons or photos of cats could trigger symptoms.
Phobias tend to cause both physical and psychological symptoms when thinking about or coming into contact with the object of your phobia.
Physical symptoms usually include:
- pain or tightness in the chest
- increased sweating or heartbeat
- trouble breathing normally
- feelings of agitation, dizziness, or nausea
- trembling and shaking
- upset stomach, especially when thinking about a future event where a cat will be present
Psychological symptoms may include:
- feeling panicked and afraid when thinking about cats
- feeling extremely fearful of new areas where there could be cats
- spending a lot of time thinking about possible ways you might come across cats and how you could avoid them
- experiencing extreme anxiety and fear when you hear meowing, hissing, or similar sounds
These symptoms can affect your routine behaviors. For example, you might stop visiting a friend who has cats or move to a new building that doesn’t allow pets. Or, you might find yourself avoiding co-workers who talk about their pet cats.
Finally, if you have a phobia of any kind, you may be aware that your fears are irrational, or unlikely to cause harm. This awareness often causes additional distress and feelings of shame, which can make it difficult to reach out for help.
The exact cause of phobias in unclear. In the case of ailurophobia, being attacked by a cat at a young age or witnessing someone else be attacked can play a role. Genetic and environmental factors may also play a part.
Specific phobias, especially animal phobias, often develop in childhood. Maybe you’ve had a phobia of cats for as long as you can remember, but you don’t recall a triggering event from your childhood.
It’s also possible to develop a phobia without ever having a negative experience related to what you fear.
If you think you might have a phobia of cats, consider seeing a mental health professional to get a diagnosis. Your primary healthcare provider can refer you to one who has experience diagnosing phobias.
In general, a phobia is diagnosed when the anxiety or fear impacts your daily life or has a negative effect on your quality of life.
You may be diagnosed with ailurophobia if:
- the sight or thought of cats causes physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety
- you go out of your way to avoid cats
- you spend more time worrying about possible encounters with cats than you’d like
- you’ve experienced these symptoms for six months or longer
Having a phobia doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need treatment. If it’s fairly easy for you to avoid cats, ailurophobia may not have much of an effect on your daily life.
However, it’s not always possible, or even desirable, to avoid the object of your phobia. For example, maybe you’ve started dating someone who has a cat. Or maybe you used to enjoy cats before you had a bad experience.
Exposure therapy is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for phobias. In this type of therapy, you’ll work with a therapist to slowly expose yourself to what you fear.
To address ailurophobia, you might begin by looking at pictures of cats. You might move on to watching cat videos, then holding a stuffed or toy cat. Eventually, you might sit next to a cat in a carrier before taking the final step of holding a gentle cat.
Systematic desensitization is a specific type of exposure therapy that involves learning relaxation techniques to help manage feelings of fear and anxiety during exposure therapy.
Eventually, these exercises can also help teach you to associate cats with a relaxation response instead of a stress response.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
If you aren’t sure about exposure therapy, you might consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) instead. In CBT, you’ll learn how to identify the thought patterns that cause distress and reframe them.
CBT for ailurophobia will likely still involve some exposure to cats, but you’ll be well-equipped with coping tools by that stage.
There aren’t any medications specifically designed to treat phobias, but some can help with short-term management of symptoms. These include:
- Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers help with physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and dizziness. They’re generally taken before going into a situation that triggers physical symptoms.
- Benzodiazepines. These are sedatives that also help decrease anxiety symptoms. While they can be helpful, they also have a high risk of addiction. Your doctor will generally only prescribe these for occasional or short-term use.
- D-cycloserine (DCS). This is a drug that may help enhance the benefits of exposure therapy. Results of a
2017 reviewsuggest exposure therapy could be more effective when supplemented with DCS.
Even without DCS or other medications, people often have success with therapy.