Wednesday 16 September 2020

Ailurophobia means a fear of cats

Ailurophobia has different degrees of severity. Some people simply can't be in the same room as a cat while others can tolerate them but can't touch them. Others might have a specific cat fear such as jumping up onto their lap. These are phobic reactions. Superstitions about cats particularly black cats still exist even though we are hundreds of years beyond that era in humankind's history, the Middle Ages, when cats were persecuted and they were believed to be the familiars of witches. Go to Africa and you will see a lot of cat superstitions.

Love Island lads are terrified of a cat! Screenshot from the TV program.

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) suffered from extreme ailurophobia. Julius Caesar also feared cats as did Henry III and Napoleon Bonaparte. He became frantic in the presence of a cat. One night he was heard screaming with a sword in his hand. He was in a state of acute panic as a cat was hiding behind a tapestry.

This sort of acute, intense ailurophobia is rare. It may start as a childhood trauma. One simple reason might be that a young child grabbed a cat roughly and inappropriately and the cat struck back biting and scratching leaving the child traumatised for life suffering from an intense fear of domestic cats. A traumatic memory can evolve into full-blown ailurophobia.

There is an old wives tales about domestic cats suffocating babies. They have of course been entirely disproved but they are persistent and no doubt some people believe them. The mother who believes this may have a form of ailurophobia as a consequence.

Apparently, studies have revealed that women are more likely to suffer from ailurophobia than men. Dr Desmond Morris the renowned zoology and author says that some experts believe that there may be a sexual element to women having a fear of cats. Cats are sometimes seen as a symbol of sexuality. Perhaps these women have suppressed their sexuality.

The way to cure ailurophobia is to gradually desensitise the person concerned. You introduce the person to the domestic cat step-by-step. At first something remotely connected to a cat is presented to the person. This may be a picture of a kitten or a plush cat toy. From there you can build up to putting a kitten in a cage or carrier and the carrier is placed in the same room as the person. You then gradually move the kitten in the carrier closer to the person and in this way step-by-step you desensitise the person until she can hold a cat without fear. It may take several months. The most intense forms of ailurophobia can be cured this way.

We don't know how many people suffering from ailurophobia seek treatment like this. Many will suffer all their lives believing that there is no cure. There is a cure and there is a reason for it. The reason is irrational because there is no rational reason to fear domestic cats except that you might be scratched or bitten :)  !

An ailurophile is someone who loves cats.

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