For some people, fear of cats is more than just a dislike of felines. Their fear is so intense that the possibility of meeting a cat triggers severe symptoms of anxiety.
People with this condition realize that their feelings are irrational, but they cannot control their fear or anxiety towards the animal. However, professional therapy and other treatments can help you understand and deal with your fears.
What is fear of cats?
Fear of cats is an extreme, negative emotional response to the presence, sound, or thought of cats. It is also called gatophobia, felinophobiaWhere ailurophobia.
The fear of cats is a specific or simple type of phobia. A specific phobia is an excessive and persistent preoccupation with something that poses little or no threat to your safety. People have specific phobias towards all sorts of things, including animals or insects (eg, dogs, snakes, spiders), the natural environment (eg, heights, water), situations (e.g. going to the dentist, driving through a tunnel), etc.
Obsessive discomfort with cats can cause those affected to leave or avoid conversations with cat lovers. Gatophobia can also discourage individuals from visiting acquaintances in case a cat is present. For some people, it may even be difficult to walk around their neighborhood because they are afraid to come across a cat on the sidewalk.
If you have an intense fear of cats, you might even limit or stop going outside to avoid seeing the animals. Your anxiety may be heightened when you see images or cartoon images of cats.
As a specific phobia, fear of cats is usually accompanied by a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- Anxiety attacks
- Feelings of restlessness or irritability when hearing or seeing cats
- Chest pain or tightness
- Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
- Rapid or difficult breathing
- Upset stomach, nausea or dizziness
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Muscle tension, jerks or tremors
It is difficult to determine how the fear of cats develops because each individual has different experiences, genetic makeups and environmental influences. Research suggests that animal phobias tend to start in childhood, around age 6 on average.
Sometimes exposure to a frightening experience involving cats causes the amygdala, a part of the brain linked to the regulation of certain emotions, to malfunction. The amygdala constantly overreacts to stimulus (cats) and creates strong, uncontrollable emotional responses.
Fear of cats can be caused by:
- Negative events: People can develop gatophobia when they have had or observed a frightening experience in relation to cats.
- Superstitions: Some cultures believe that cats are bad or omens of bad luck.
- Social transmission: Seeing or hearing someone express a deep fear of cats may inspire you to take the same view.
- Co-occurring mental issues: Specific phobias frequently occur with other psychiatric illnesses, such as other anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.
Irrational fear vs being irrational
Just because you have an “irrational” fear doesn’t make you an irrational person. Phobias are very real and trigger an instinctive fight or flight response.
Diagnose specific phobias
Although phobias are quite common, they don’t always cause enough trouble to warrant a diagnosis of a specific disease. Additionally, a specialist will need to differentiate between your fear of cats and anxiety caused by another psychiatric disorder.
An official diagnosis of gatophobia requires initial screening by a qualified medical and/or mental health professional. They will ask you to describe your symptoms and the history of your fear of cats. If warranted, they will refer you to a licensed mental health professional who specializes in phobias.
Mental health professionals use the American Psychiatric Association guidelines to make a diagnosis. They can further assess your condition through a variety of screening tools and assessments.
Treat fear of cats
There is no known cure for gatophobia, but treatment can help reduce symptoms. The effectiveness of any program depends on the severity of your disease and any concurrent disorders.
As with many mental disorders, you may need to try a combination of strategies to improve your condition. Your healthcare provider may also want to change your regimen over time. These strategies include:
- Medications: Anxiolytics and antidepressants can help you manage the anxiety symptoms that accompany gatophobia. Take only under the supervision of your doctor.
- Exposure therapy: A mental health professional will introduce you to images or situations that may trigger symptoms of gatophobia. They will teach you to manage your response with breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapists use guided relaxation methods and increased suggestibility to help you change your perception of cats.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps you explore your beliefs and behaviors related to cats. You will learn to challenge irrational assumptions and replace them with more appropriate factual answers. This therapy is often accompanied by exposure therapy.
In addition to medical advice, you can start self-care routines to manage your fear of cats:
- Logging can help you reflect on yourself and analyze your daily fears and behaviors.
- Meditation helps you redirect your thoughts and focus your attention on things that promote calm.
- Acknowledgement increases positive emotions and decreases negative anxiety symptoms.
The fear of cats triggers irrational and excessive anxiety in some people. This reaction to seeing or thinking about cats continues to occur, even when no risk of harm is present. It is also called gatophobia, felinophobia or ailurophobia.
This anxiety disorder causes people to go out of their way to avoid cats or any reminders of them. Given the popularity of cats, fear of cats can significantly limit a person’s social interactions and relationships.
A word from Verywell
Your excessive fear of cats may make you too embarrassed to ask for help. However, this hesitation could intensify your symptoms, affecting your physical health and your relationships.
Call your doctor if you have recurring panic attacks. Seek professional help if fear of cats is causing significant distress or preventing you from functioning in daily life. Treatments can help you learn to tolerate, and even enjoy, the company of cats and the people who love them.