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Do you have a really strong fear of cats? We are all afraid of something, but when the fear is too extreme it is probably a sign you have a phobia. Here we look at ailurophobia and how it is treated.

What is ailurophobia?

Ailurophobia is an intense and irrational fear of cats. People suffering from ailurophobia may experience severe anxiety or panic at the sight of a cat, even at just the thought of cats.

This phobia can lead them to avoid situations where there is a possibility of encountering cats, which can limit social interactions and negatively affect daily life. It is a treatable condition that can be helped.

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Why do people get ailurophobia?

There are many causes of ailurophobia which differ from person to person. A negative or traumatic event with a cat, such as being bitten or scratched, can trigger ailurophobia. Observational learning – seeing someone else express a fear of cats – can also contribute to its development.

Cultural or family influences where cats are seen as sinister or associated with negative supernatural beliefs may also play a role. A genetic predisposition to anxiety may make some individuals more susceptible to developing specific phobias such as ailurophobia.

Psychological factors, including other anxiety disorders, can increase the likelihood of someone developing ailurophobia. Phobias are complex and often result from a combination of several factors.

How common are phobias?

Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder. These range from common phobias such as a fear of heights and social phobia to lesser known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).


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Symptoms of ailurophobia

The symptoms of ailurophobia involve a range of physical and emotional reactions that occur at the sight of a cat, at the thought of cats, or even at the mention of cats. These symptoms are similar to those observed in other specific phobias and can include:

  • Intense anxiety or fear when seeing a cat, thinking about cats, or when in situations where you might encounter a cat.
  • Panic attacks, which may include symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a feeling of suffocation.
  • Avoidance behaviour, where the individual goes out of their way to avoid places where cats may be present, such as friends’ homes, parks, or other outdoor environments.
  • Physical symptoms due to anxiety, including nausea, dizziness, or extreme discomfort.
  • Emotional stress that can affect the person’s daily functioning, including work, social interactions and personal relationships.

These reactions are not only limited to direct encounters with cats, thoughts or images of cats can even trigger these symptoms. It is important for people who experience these symptoms to seek professional help. Treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure therapy, can be effective.


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How can ailurophobia be treated?

Treatment for ailurophobia can involve several strategies to reduce anxiety and help one overcome their phobia. CBT is an effective method to challenge negative thoughts related to the phobia, while exposure therapy gradually accustoms the person to the presence of cats to reduce fear.

Medication can be used temporarily to relieve anxiety symptoms. Relaxation techniques and mindfulness help to control anxiety levels. Support groups and psychoeducation offer additional support and insights. Professional help from psychologists or psychiatrists is essential to create an individualised treatment plan. With commitment and the right treatment, individuals can work towards reducing or overcoming their phobia.


12 common questions about ailurophobia

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. It is estimated that 10 million people in the UK suffer from at least one form of phobia.

What is ailurophobia?

Ailurophobia is an intense and irrational fear of cats. People suffering from ailurophobia may experience severe anxiety or panic at the sight of a cat, or even at the thought of cats.

What causes ailurophobia?

The causes of ailurophobia may be due to a combination of genetic factors, personal experiences (such as negative experiences with cats) and environmental influences.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist.

How does treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Yes, untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders if many things related to the phobia are avoided.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works with thoughts, feelings and behaviours in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool used in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of systematically and safely with a psychologist or therapist.

I have started to avoid things because I am afraid of meeting a cat, what can I do?

If you have a fear of cats that is affecting or limiting your life, seek treatment. There is effective help available.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. It is easy to book an online session with one of Lavendla’s therapists. We make the difficult easier.

Treating ailurophobia with CBT

Below are the typical steps for treating ailurophobia. It might feel overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviours and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. This will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. With your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Follow-up and evaluation of progress

You will have support from your psychologist or therapist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book an initial session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how they can help you.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.