If you have the extreme or irrational fear of cats, then you are not alone. In the United States alone, nearly 22.2% of individuals are known to fear animals of different kinds. The fear of cats is known by many several names. A common one is Ailurophobia , which has its origins in Greek ( ailouros (cats) and phobos (dread or fear)). Another name for this phobia is Gatophobia (which is etymologically Spanish Gato for cats). It is also called Galeophobia (again Greek for cats-galemacr).
Animal phobias are common and many individuals tend to fear more than one animal. For people with Ailurophobia, their fear or dread of cats can greatly impact their daily lives and activities.
Causes of Gatophobia or fears of cats phobia
There are a number of possible explanations for fear of cats:
- A common trigger for Ailurophobia is watching fearful reactions of other people to cats. A child might develop this fear by watching his parent or caregiver (or even cartoon characters in a TV show) behave fearfully towards cats.
- Women are known to acquire Gatophobia by watching TV shows or movies where typically women characters exhibit or display fear by jumping on the chair or running away to avoid cats. This notion is further enhanced by the fact that a male character is shown to protect her from the animal.
- Cats are predatory by nature. Often they have been associated with witchcraft, folklore, evil. Even domesticated cats might snarl, hiss or scratch. Having observed such cat behavior as a child (or even as an adult) directly or indirectly leads to this phobia.
- Killing or harming cats in many cultures, especially amongst ancient Egyptians where cats were revered and mummified or preserved, is considered a punishable Act. Such religious sentiments can also lead to fear of cats especially in minds of people already going through crisis or are, by nature, high strung or overly anxious.
Symptoms of Ailurophobia or the fear of cats
People with Ailurophobia display panic attacks upon confrontation with a cat. Avoidance of cats is another symptom of this phobia. In general, individuals might display following behavior:
- “Fight or flight response” upon seeing a cat, typically running away or trying to defend oneself.
- At least four of following symptoms may be present: (i) pounding heart, (ii) trembling or shaking, (iii) chest pain, (iv) nausea, (v) dizziness or lightheadedness,(vi) numbness or tingling sensations, (vii) thoughts of death, (viii) feeling like choking.
- As far as avoidance in Gatophobia is concerned; the individual will try to do anything to avoid a cat even if it entails putting oneself at risk. Crossing the street quickly, jumping out of the cats’ ways are a few examples. One might avoid nature shows or TV channels where they might see a cat. They will also turn down invitations to friends’ homes where there is a pet cat.
- Other avoidance reactions in Ailurophobia may be subtle: carrying cat food snacks to throw at the cat or shutting one’s eyes during a movie scene or carrying a pepper spray or having a family member scope out the neighborhood to ensure there are no cats around.
Overcoming the fear of cats phobia
The great news for most animal phobias including the fear of cats is that these are easily treatable. Most mild cases of Ailurophobia can be overcome with a few therapy sessions.
- Prolonged exposure to cats gradually is important to overcome Gatophobia. This may be done in steps: (i) seeing the cat from far, (ii) looking at its pictures, (iii) saying its name and so on. These limited forms of exposure are highly instrumental in eroding the fear of cats.
- For gradual desensitization to be effective, it is important that the phobic stays in the situation and practices it many times. Doing so can be beneficial in reducing the use of strategies of avoidance of cats such as carrying safety cues, and other overprotective behaviors.
- It is important to enlist the help of friends or family members when undergoing exposure therapy. Trained therapist can also help achieve positive results.
- One must also re-learn to think differently about cats. There are many methods of doing so: one must identify anxious thoughts, beliefs and predictions and replace all these with more realistic ones. These strategies can be used along with exposure therapy to overcome the fear of cats.
If you suffer from Gatophobia or Ailurophobia; you are not alone. However, you must take steps to identify and understand the nature of your fear of cats so that you can prepare yourself to confront and overcome your phobia once and for all.