For some people, the fear of cats is more than just a dislike of felines. Their fear is so strong that the possibility of encountering a cat can trigger severe anxiety symptoms.
People with this disorder realize that their feelings are irrational, but they cannot control their fear or anxiety about animals. However, professional therapy and other treatments can help you understand and manage your fears.
What is a cat’s fear?
Fear of cats is an extremely negative emotional response to the presence, sounds, or thoughts of cats.it is also called fear of heights, phobiaor phobia.
Fear of cats is a specific or simple phobia. Specific phobias are excessive, persistent worries about things that pose little or no threat to your safety. People have specific phobias of a variety of things, including animals or insects (eg, dogs, snakes, spiders), natural environments (eg, heights, water), situations (eg, going to the dentist, driving through a tunnel), and more.
Compulsive discomfort with cats may cause the affected person to leave or avoid talking to cat lovers. Gatophobia may also prevent individuals from visiting acquaintances in case cats are nearby. For some, it’s even difficult to walk through their neighborhoods because they’re afraid of encountering a cat on the sidewalk.
If you have a strong fear of cats, you may even limit or stop leaving your house to avoid seeing animals. Your anxiety may escalate when you see pictures or cartoon images of cats.
As a specific phobia, fear of cats is often accompanied by a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms, including:
- anxiety attack
- Feeling agitated or irritable when hearing or seeing the cat
- chest pain or tightness
- increased heart rate or blood pressure
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- upset stomach, nausea, or dizziness
- difficulty thinking clearly
- muscle tension, trembling, or trembling
It can be difficult to determine how fear of cats develops because everyone has different experiences, genetic makeup, and environmental influences. Research has shown that animal phobias tend to start in childhood, around the age of 6 on average.
Sometimes exposure to scary cat-related experiences can cause dysfunction in the amygdala, the part of the brain involved in regulating certain emotions. The amygdala constantly overreacts to stimuli (cats) and produces strong, uncontrollable emotional responses.
Fear of cats can be caused by:
- Negative Events: When people experience or observe scary experiences with cats, they may develop gatophobia.
- Superstition: Some cultures believe cats are evil or ominous.
- Social Transmission: Seeing or hearing someone express a deep-seated fear of cats may influence you to accept the same.
- Co-occurring psychiatric problems: Specific phobias often occur with other psychiatric disorders, such as other anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.
Irrational fear and irrationality
Just because you have an “irrational” fear doesn’t mean you are an irrational person. Phobias are very real and trigger an instinctive fight or flight response.
Diagnosing specific phobias
While phobias are common, they don’t always cause enough damage to justify a diagnosis of a particular disorder. Also, experts need to distinguish between your fear of cats and anxiety caused by another mental illness.
A formal diagnosis of gatophobia requires initial screening by a qualified healthcare and/or mental health professional. They will ask you to describe the symptoms and medical history behind your fear of cats. If necessary, they will refer you to a licensed mental health professional with expertise in phobias.
Mental health professionals use American Psychiatric Association guidelines for diagnosis. They can further assess your condition with various screening tools and assessments.
Treating Fear of Cats
There is no known cure for gatophobia, but treatment can help reduce symptoms. The effectiveness of any plan depends on the severity of your illness and any co-occurring illnesses.
As with many mental disorders, you may need to try several strategies to improve your condition. Your healthcare provider may also want to change your treatment regimen over time. These strategies include:
- Medications: Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can help you manage the anxiety symptoms that accompany gatophobia. Use only under the care of a doctor.
- Exposure Therapy: A mental health professional will introduce you to images or situations that may trigger symptoms of a phobia. They will teach you to manage your responses through breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Hypnotherapy: A hypnotherapist uses guided relaxation methods and increased suggestion to help you change the way you think about your cat.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps you explore beliefs and behaviors related to cats. You will learn to question unreasonable assumptions and replace them with more appropriate, fact-based responses. This therapy is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy.
In addition to medical guidance, you can start a self-care routine to manage your fear of cats:
- Journaling can help you to self-reflect and analyze your fears and behaviors on a daily basis.
- Meditation can help you refocus your mind and focus on things that promote calm.
- Gratitude increases positive emotions and reduces negative anxiety symptoms.
Fear of cats can trigger irrational excessive anxiety in some people. This response to seeing or thinking of a cat continues to intensify even when there is no risk of harm. It is also called gatophobia, felinophobia or ailurophobia.
This anxiety disorder drives people to go out of their way to avoid cats or anything that reminds them. Given the popularity of cats, fear of cats can greatly limit a person’s social interactions and relationships.
Mental Health Hotline
If you or a loved one is struggling with an extreme fear of cats, please contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 to find out what is available in your area Information on support and treatment facilities.
For more mental health resources, see our national helpline database.
Your excessive fear of cats may make you feel too embarrassed to seek help. However, this hesitancy can exacerbate your symptoms and affect your physical health and relationships.
Call your doctor if you have repeated panic attacks. Seek professional help if your fear of cats causes severe distress or prevents you from functioning normally in your daily life. Therapy can help you learn to tolerate and even enjoy the company of cats and people who love them.
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