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Cat lovers may wonder who wouldn't want to spend their lives around cats. Some people choose not to hang out with cats, but others have a real fear of cats, called ailurophobia.
A fear of cats is categorized as a "specific" phobia, the fear of a specific object, place or situation like an animal, germs or heights, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Specific phobias can affect peoples' lives on all levels of the spectrum, from slight to extreme.
Origins of Cat Phobia
The fear of cats can develop from a traumatic incident such as being attacked by a cat, but the condition is also psychological in nature. Specific phobias tend to develop between the ages of 7 and 11, though they can form at any age, according to Psycom.
Symptoms of Cat Phobia
Cat phobia presents itself in much the same way as other specific phobias. As the Mayo Clinic described, symptoms may include:
- Intense fear and anxiety when near or thinking about a cat
- Awareness that the fear is irrational but feeling powerless over it
- Increasing anxiety when getting closer to a cat
- Avoiding cats whenever possible
- Experiencing physical reactions, including sweating, difficulty breathing, dizziness and rapid heartbeat
- Children with phobias may cry or cling to their parents
People with ailurophobia can fall into two camps. In an interview with Britain's Your Cat magazine, psychology professor Dr. Martin Antony explained that "the underlying concern differs across cat phobic individuals. For some it is a fear of harm (for example, being attacked, scratched, etc.). For others, it may be more of a disgust reaction." The potential severity of ailurophobia affects a person's life in various ways.
What you may see as weird but harmless cat conduct, such as running across the room for no reason, may be seen as threatening to people who fear cats. Subjects interviewed for the Your Cat article said they're terrified of the unpredictability of a cat's movement (jumping, leaping, scratching) and feel physically overwhelmed by the thought of ingesting cat hair, so much so that they check utensils, glasses, and other items before using them.
Coping With Cat Phobia
While there is no "cure" for ailurophobia, there are ways to manage it constructively. Psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Neuman noted in Psychology Today that animal phobias, though easier to treat than other types of phobias, can be severe. Treatment for animal phobias includes the following, said Dr. Neuman:
- Reading about the animal
- Playing with toy animals (for children and adults)
- Observing the animal from a distance
- Learning how to handle the animal
- Touching the animal (if possible) with supervision
In severe cases, ailurophobics cannot have cats in their line of sight (for example, seeing a cat strolling around the room) because it causes severe anxiety. It can take many months or even years to overcome cat phobia, usually with the help of exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy.
How to Help Those with Ailurophobia
If someone you know has ailurophobia, you can help by acknowledging their fear of your feline friend. One way to do this is to talk about a cat's body language and what different cat-specific movements mean.
And it's no coincidence that kitties tend to approach the non-cat-lover in the room. As opposed to someone who tries to interact with your fur baby, Cat-World Australia said, "the visitor who doesn't like cats quietly sits down avoids all eye contact with the cat and hopes the cat will stay away. He is behaving in such a way that is viewed as non-threatening towards the cat." This is why your cat heads straight for the quiet person. You may have to put your cat in another room while your ailurophobic friend is visiting, or hang out together at a location other than your home.
With patience and understanding, you can help the people in your life manage their fear of cats.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien, Ph.D., is a professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA), a STEAM educator, and a devoted pet parent. Her work also has appeared in Fit Pregnancy, What to Expect When You're Expecting Word of Mom, and Care.com. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien