Phobia Of Cats (ailurophobia): Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

These animals are often highly appreciated and loved, but some people panic.

Cats are one of the favorite pets of humans; however, while some individuals love these little creatures, others feel intense fear of them.  

It seems difficult to believe that there are people who feel terrified in the presence of these animals, especially considering that many scientific investigations have shown that these little felines provide many  benefits for humans. For example, they help prevent allergies in children, improve self-esteem and mood, or prevent respiratory infections. However, the world of phobias is diverse and to some extent independent of rationality.

Phobia of cats: what is it

Although cats tend to have a reputation for being somewhat selfish and interested, especially when there is food involved, a scientific study has proven that they love humans more than we used to think (you can learn about this study by clicking here ). But regardless of whether we like cats more or less, some people experience an irrational fear of these animals, a fear that causes them great anxiety and that makes them try to avoid their presence at all costs. 

This disorder is known as alliurophobia or phobia of cats.

A phobia is an extreme, irrational and persistent fear of a specific object, activity or situation. It belongs to the group of  anxiety disorders, in which exposure to the feared stimulus can cause different symptoms such as nervousness, anxiety, sweating, tremors, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, etc. The phobia towards cats is totally irrational, and although a cat does not represent a real danger for these people, its mere presence can trigger this strong involuntary reaction.

What causes this phobia

Experts affirm that phobias have different causes, although the most frequent is the occurrence of a traumatic event from the past.  

For example, when a child is bitten by a cat, he can generalize and see all animals of this species as potential attackers, regardless of whether they are aggressive or tame. This occurs by a type of associative learning called classical conditioning, which was originally discovered by Ivan Pavlov and later popularized by John Watson.

Classical conditioning is also called stimulus response learning or ER. If you want to delve into how this learning happens. you can read this article: ” Classical conditioning and its most important experiments “

False beliefs can also cause this phobia, because cats are often associated with black magic, witchcraft, sadism, and evil, especially black cats, thanks to Halloween legends, superstitions, and countless literary works.

In addition, some researchers believe that genetic origin may or may not favor the appearance of phobias, that is, that some people are more likely to suffer from these types of fears than other people. Other experts believe that personality plays an important role in phobias, as people with anxious personality traits are more likely to suffer from this irrational fear.

What characteristics does this pathology present?

Phobias are far from the fear that a person may feel towards a cat that perhaps shows an aggressive attitude. And it is that normally cats do not usually threaten human beings, but they feel very comfortable in their presence, especially domestic cats. Some of them, in fact, seek constant displays of affection when surrounded by people.

For the fear of cats to be considered a phobia, it must be irrational and not associated with coherent thoughts, cause great discomfort in the presence of any cat, be persistent, be uncontrollable and, therefore, provoke the avoidance of the phobic stimulus, in this case, cats.

Symptoms of alliurophobia

The most common symptoms of ailurophobia in people are:

  • Extreme and irrational fear (can also be triggered by a thought or image of a cat)
  • Fight-flight response in the presence of a cat, idea or thought of it, that is, trying to avoid the situation that the person considers threatening.
  • Also avoid places where cats are or can be found. For example, not accepting the invitation to a friend’s house because he has a feline.
  • Great discomfort and anxiety in the presence of a cat, thought or idea.
  • Realize that fear is irrational but cannot control it.
  • Hypervigilance and extreme nervousness at the thought of meeting a cat.
  • Panic attacks with signs such as agitation, shortness of breath, sweating and clammy hands, racing pulse, etc.
  • Dizziness, nausea and intestinal discomfort.

Treatment

The treatment of this phobia is not different from that of the other phobias and, since it usually occurs by classical conditioning, cognitive behavioral therapy is usually one of the preferred treatments due to its great effectiveness.

The  cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing thoughts and behavior of a person who is considered maladjusted and that is causing discomfort. The therapist, from the outset, usually helps the patient to understand why he has developed a phobia, and usually provides him with a series of tools so that he can overcome it.  

The idea is for the subject to replace the negative and irrational thoughts that they have towards cats with more realistic and adaptive ones. The therapy sessions also help to release the stress and tension that one has been having due to the phobia.

Techniques used

Some of the most used techniques in cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of phobias are expository techniques and  relaxation techniques. Therefore, the therapist guides the person through regular exposures that include the presence of cats. 

This is usually done gradually, and usually begins, for example, with photographs of cats, videos, stuffed animals and, finally, real cats. Furthermore, the goal of one of these expository techniques, called systematic desensitization, is to foster more useful coping skills when the patient is exposed to phobic stimuli.

In psychotherapy sessions different forms of relaxation are also taught, including breath control and mental visualizations, and other therapeutic methods such as Mindfulness or clinical hypnosis can be used.

Medications, usually anxiolytics (but also antidepressants), can be used in more severe cases, those in which the patient has panic attacks.

New technologies applied to the treatment of phobias

New technologies are also beginning to be used for the treatment of these pathologies, since they have turned out to be very useful. Virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality enhance the patient’s therapeutic experience.  

Likewise, there are different “apps” for mobiles that can be used to treat phobias and are useful for this purpose.

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