Ailurophobia: Understanding And Coping With The Fear Of Cats

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The American Psychological Association defines a phobia, also referred to as a “specific phobia,“ as “a persistent and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, or activity, which is consequently either strenuously avoided or endured with marked distress.” Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, and a person can develop a phobia of virtually any object or situation. One specific phobia that could affect a person is ailurophobia, or the fear of cats. Read on to learn more about symptoms of phobias like this one and treatment options for those who experience them.

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While phobias can be challenging, they are treatable

Ailurophobia defined

Ailurophobia is one of the most common specific phobias. It’s an intense, irrational, uncontrollable fear of cats, to the point that the person with the phobia may experience a variety of distressing physical and emotional symptoms when seeing a cat in person, seeing a picture or video of a cat, or even thinking of a cat.

As a result, they may avoid situations where any of these things could occur. In some cases, that means missing out on social opportunities, such as avoiding all contact with any friend who has a cat or speaks about cats. In more extreme cases, it could even lead to an inability to leave the house for fear of crossing paths with a cat or encountering an image of a cat. 

Like all phobias, specific triggers of ailurophobia may vary somewhat from person to person. That said, they must cause significant distress and/or interfere with daily functioning or quality of life in order to be considered a clinical phobia. Note that people with phobias are typically aware of the irrationality of their fears yet may be unable to manage them without professional support. 

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Symptoms of ailurophobia

Exactly what triggers a person’s ailurophobia symptoms can vary, from having a cat brush against them to seeing a cat across the street to hearing a recording of cat sounds or even seeing toys or other products made for cats. Some may even react to hearing or reading the word “cat” or finding cat hair on their clothing. 

Although triggers are usually specific to the phobia and the individual, the symptoms that they cause tend to be similar across phobias. When encountering the object of their phobia, symptoms an individual might experience can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • An increased heart rate
  • The feeling of pins and needles in the extremities
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Nausea
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feeling faint
  • Dry mouth
  • A ringing in the ears
  • Confusion or disorientation 

Note also that certain experiences may be associated with specific symptoms for an individual. For example, seeing a cat run across the street may cause sweating and an increased heart rate, but having a cat brush up against one’s leg could lead to nausea and feeling faint. 

Treatment for ailurophobia

Treatment for this type of specific phobia typically consists of some form of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, may be used to help the client change how they think about cats in an attempt to shift their emotions and behavioral responses to triggers over time. Exposure therapy could also be used to try and gradually decrease the individual’s reactiveness to their triggers. 

For example, if the thought of touching a cat leads to symptoms, a therapist may work with the client in a controlled environment to calmly work up to that action using exposure therapy for ailurophobia. The provider may start by teaching the client relaxation or breathing exercises to help them find calm when triggered. The therapist may then show them a photo of a cat and support them in doing the relaxation exercises to cope with symptoms that may arise in response. Over time, they may work up to doing the same thing while the client holds a toy cat, then is in the room with a cat in a carrier, and then finally pets a cat or lets it brush up against their leg.

Getty/AnnaStills
While phobias can be challenging, they are treatable

Seeking help for ailurophobia  

Seeking help for ailurophobia is generally recommended if your fear has begun to negatively impact your daily life—like if you find it hard to leave home for fear of encountering a cat, or have ended a friendship with someone because you feel intense fear even at seeing cat hair on their clothes or hearing stories about their cat. In cases like these, meeting with a therapist can be beneficial. They may be able to help you figure out the root cause of your fear, identify and address triggers, and learn healthy ways to cope with the distress these may cause while you work on reducing it over time.

For those with extreme symptoms of ailurophobia that make it difficult for them to leave the house, attending regular in-person therapy sessions may not be possible. Others may simply not have adequate providers in their area or may prefer to attend therapy from a controlled, comfortable environment like their own home. In cases like these, online therapy can represent a more convenient option. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing. Research suggests that online therapy appears to be a promising way to treat phobias, so you can generally feel confident in choosing whichever format you prefer. 

Takeaway

Ailurophobia is a specific phobia that can result in extreme, fear-based symptoms as a result of encountering or even thinking about cats, images of cats, or things associated with cats (fur, cat toys, etc.). While living with a phobia can be very difficult, there are effective treatments available—typically various forms of therapy that can help reduce distress and teach coping mechanisms, whether they’re completed online or in person.
It is possible to overcome phobias
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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