For those of us who consider cats as our family members, it is almost inconceivable that some people dislike them or actually hate them. “Hate” is a strong word to use against any living creature, especially a sentient being, a category which embraces humans, cats, and many animals. But there are such people, more kindly known as ailurophobes.
Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler, all suffered from ‘ailurophobia’ which is a type of specific phobia: the persistent, irrational fear of cats. People who have the extreme or irrational fear of cats are not alone. In the United States, nearly 22.2% of individuals are known to fear animals of different kinds. For people with Ailurophobia, their fear or dread of cats can greatly impact their daily lives and activities.
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.
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.
People with Ailurophobia display panic attacks upon confrontation with a cat.
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 Ailurophobia.
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.
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.