What Is the Fear of Cats?

For some individuals, fear of cats is more than just disliking felines. Their fear is so intense that the possibility of encountering a cat triggers severe anxiety symptoms.

People with this condition realize that their feelings are irrational, but they cannot control their dread or anxiety towards the animal. However, professional therapy and other treatments can help you understand and manage your fears.

Cat tower

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What Is the 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, felinophobia, or ailurophobia.

Fear of cats is a type of specific or simple phobia. A specific phobia is an excessive, persistent concern about something that poses little or no threat to your safety. People have specific phobias towards all kinds of things, including animals or insects (e.g. dogs, snakes, spiders), the natural environment (e.g. heights, water), situations (e.g. going to the dentist, driving through a tunnel), and more.

Traits

Obsessive discomfort regarding cats may lead affected people to leave or avoid conversations with cat lovers. Gatophobia may also discourage individuals from visiting acquaintances in case a cat is around. For some people, it can even be difficult to walk through their neighborhood, as they are afraid of encountering a cat on the sidewalk.

If you have an intense fear of cats, you might even limit or stop leaving your own house to avoid seeing the animals. Your anxiety possibly escalates when you see pictures or cartoon images of cats.

Symptoms

As a specific phobia, fear of cats typically comes with a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms including:

  • Anxiety attacks
  • Feelings of agitation or irritability when hearing or seeing cats
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
  • Rapid or troubled breathing
  • Upset stomach, nausea, or dizziness
  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Muscle tension, shaking or trembling

Causes

It's difficult to pinpoint how fear of cats develops, as every individual has different experiences, genetic makeups, and environmental influences. Research suggests that animal phobias tend to start in childhood, around 6 years of age on average.

Sometimes, exposure to a fearful experience involving cats causes a dysfunction in the amygdala, a part of the brain related to regulating certain emotions. The amygdala constantly overreacts to the stimulus (cats) and creates strong, uncontrollable emotional reactions.

Fear of cats could be caused by:

  • Negative events: People can develop gatophobia when they have experienced or observed a frightening experience in relation to cats.
  • Superstitions: Some cultures believe that cats are evil or omens of bad luck.
  • Social transmission: Seeing or listening to someone express a deep-seated fear of cats may influence you to pick up the same perspective.
  • Co-occurring mental issues: Specific phobias commonly 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 does not mean you are an irrational person. Phobias are very real and trigger an instinctive fight-or-flight response.

Diagnosing Specific Phobias

While phobias are quite common, they don't always cause enough impairment to justify a diagnosis of a specific condition. Also, a specialist would 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 healthcare and/or mental health professional. They will ask you to describe your symptoms and history behind your fear of cats. If warranted, they will refer you to a licensed mental health professional with expertise in phobias.

Mental health professionals use the American Psychiatric Association's guidelines to form a diagnosis. They can further assess your condition through a variety of screening tools and evaluations.

Treating the 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 illness and any co-occurring disorders.

As with many mental disorders, you may need to try a combination of strategies to improve your condition. Your healthcare provider may want to change your regimen over time as well. These strategies include:

  • Medicines: Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants may help you manage the anxiety symptoms that accompany gatophobia. Take only under the care of your doctor.
  • Exposure therapy: A mental health professional will introduce you to images or situations that may trigger gatophobia symptoms. They will teach you to manage your response with breathing and relaxation techniques.
  • Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapists use guided relaxation methods and heightened suggestibility to help you alter your perception of cats.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT helps you explore your beliefs and behaviors related to cats. You'll learn to question irrational assumptions and replace them with more appropriate, fact-based responses. This therapy often goes along with exposure therapy.

Coping Strategies

In addition to medical guidance, you can begin self-care routines to manage your fear of cats:

  • Journaling can help you self-reflect and analyze your fears and behaviors every day.
  • Meditation helps you redirect your thoughts and focus your attention on things that promote calm.
  • Gratitude increases positive emotions and decreases negative anxiety symptoms.

Summary

Fear of cats triggers irrational, excessive anxiety in some people. This reaction to seeing or thinking about cats continues to flare up, even though no risk of harm is present. It is also called gatophobia, felinophobia, or ailurophobia.

This anxiety disorder drives people to go out of their way to avoid cats or any reminder of them. Considering how popular cats are, fear of cats may drastically limit a person's social interactions and relationships.

Mental Health Helpline

If you or a loved one are struggling with an overwhelming fear of cats, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Your excessive fear of cats may make you feel too embarrassed to seek help. However, this hesitancy could intensify your symptoms, affecting your physical health and relationships.

Call your doctor if you're experiencing recurring panic attacks. Reach out for professional help if fear of cats causes significant distress or keeps you from functioning in daily life. Treatments can help you learn to tolerate, or even enjoy, the company of cats and people who love them.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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