Sunday 30 July 2023

My new roommate is scared of cats. How to train my cat to stay away from her?

Ailurophobia. Image: MikeB

The question in the title was asked on about two months ago. It's a good question because there must be lots of occasions when young people share a home and have their own rooms and in which there might be a domestic cat belonging to one of the roommates. Not all roommates will be relaxed around a domestic cat. In some instances, a person might be genuinely fearful. It may be an irrational fear of cats which is called ailurophobia. This is the beginning of her post:

Hi, I have a 1year old female orange cat. She is quiet and a curious cat. So, my new roommate although she is doesn't like them, but from her behaviour it seems she's afraid. Every time she sees my cat from distance screams, my cat runs towards her to smell her and she keeps jerking or screaming.

Ailurophobia can be cured because it is irrational and it probably arises because of a traumatic incident when the person was young involving a cat. Perhaps they were scratched or bitten when they were impressionable toddlers. They become sensitive, overly sensitive to the presence of cats. You can desensitise people by gradually introducing them to cats at a distance and in a safe way such as putting the cat in a carrier and allowing the fearful person to sit in the same room as the carrier.

That would be a good starting point and then gradually you bring the carrier nearer the person and over time it would be satisfactory to open the carrier and allow the person to sit near the cat. You might start with a kitten rather than an adult cat which might be more acceptable to a person fearful of cats.

The point is that it is far easier to train a person to begin to accept cats and not be fearful of them than it would be to train a cat to avoid a person who is fearful of cats. I don't think it would be practical to train a cat to do that. Especially in a small space such as a shared home.

Of course, the person fearful of cats could frighten the cat away all the time which would probably deter the cat going near her but that I think would be very much second best and in any case a form of cat abuse.

The solution is in the hands of people and the concerns people behaviour. Below is my shortened version of the answer which I left on the website as a comment. It says the same thing.

I have an article on this on another website. The link to that page is below.

How to Cure Ailurophobia?

For the sake of completeness, I will prefer to Dr. Desmond Morris's words on this topic. I mention that ailurophobia might start with a traumatic incident. A second way in which cat phobia can arise stems from an irrational fear on the part of parents that the family cat might try to smother the newly arrived baby by sitting on them or lying on them when they are asleep in their crib. 

This is an old wives' tale and people still believe it. Not that often I have to say. This parental fear may be transmitted to their children because many a child may experience a shrieking mother rushing into the nursery and yelling at the cat to leave the room. The child develops an association between cats and panic which leaves him or her panicked when in the presence of a domestic cat.

It appears that in studies women were more likely to suffer from the affliction than men. It has been suggested that there may be a sexual content to ailurophobia. This is because the cat has often been seen as a symbol of sexuality. It's possible that in some instances an intense fear of the feline may reflect a suppressed sexuality on the part of the woman suffering from ailurophobia.

Many who suffer from the condition believe that there is no cure and they go through life with this irrational fear. In an extreme, sometimes they refuse to go outside in case that they meet up with a cat on the street. That would be extremely sad. There is certainly a cure as mentioned. It just takes patience and a willingness on the part of the sufferer to participate fully to a successful conclusion.

My Reddit response.

As this is two months old, you might have found a solution by now but this is my suggestion. You ask how you can train your cat to stay away from your roommate who is frightened of cats. That is going to be more difficult than training your roommate to stop being fearful of cats.

So, I would suggest that you train your roommate to be less fearful of cats. You can do that by gradually desensitising her to the presence of cats. It basically entails gradually introducing her to a cat, perhaps your cat, at a distance and perhaps in a cage. You might put your cat in a carrier cage through which your roommate can see your cat. And you place that carrier with your cat inside in the same room as your roommate at opposite ends of the room perhaps. And then you gradually bring the cage nearer to your roommate and then bit-by-bit your roommate might become desensitised to your cat's presence and then eventually you might ask your roommate to put her hand near the cage so that your cat can smell her hand. You progress along these lines until she can sit know your cat when your cat is outside of the cage. The program eventually, your roommate, all being well, should be desensitised and the atmosphere in your home will be calmer which will certainly help both your roommate and your cat.

I would suggest that you look up "curing ailurophobia" on the Internet. There will be lots of answers to that and they should be along the same lines that I have mentioned but perhaps more sophisticated processes.

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