Ailurophobia is the fear of cats. An ailurophobic is differentiated from someone who is simply not a cat person by a deep-seated, persistent, and irrational response to cats which causes the patient to become extremely anxious around felines. Some notable sufferers of ailurophobia include Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Genghis Khan.
Like other phobias, ailurophobia has its roots in the unconscious mind, and the patient may not even be fully aware of the origins of the phobia. Some people develop ailurophobia in response to a trauma such as being bitten or scratched in childhood, while others have a sympathetic response when exposed to someone else's trauma, developing ailurophobia. Patients with this condition have a trigger in their subconscious minds which views cats as dangerous and puts the body into high alert when a cat is seen.
Sweating, chills, an irregular heartbeat, nausea, and extreme anxiety can all accompany the sight of a cat for patients with this condition. Some people also develop a hatred of cats which is rooted in their ailurophobia and often exacerbated by people who make fun of the phobia or fail to understand it. People can react to seeing a cat in person, looking at a picture of a cat, seeing cats on television, or spotting a cat in the distance. Even when a cat clearly cannot harm the patient, he or she may experience a response.
Some people with ailurophobia also have superstitious or supernatural associations with cats. In addition to fearing the potential of being bitten or scratched, these patients may think that cats are unlucky, or believe in urban legends about cats and their activities.
This condition can be debilitating and embarrassing, since cats are a rather common sight, and many people keep cats as pets or working animals. For someone with ailurophobia, even a casual walk around the neighborhood can turn into a nightmare, and visits to the homes of other people can be a source of anxiety and discomfort due to concerns that a cat may be present. Like other zoophobias, ailurophobia is sometimes mocked by people who do not share the phobia, and this can make patients edgy and anxious.
Treatments for ailurophobia usually focus on behavioral therapy which is designed to desensitize the patient so that he or she does not experience crippling fear when a cat is encountered. This therapy can be approached from a variety of ways, and sometimes patients need to work with several therapists before they find a good fit. Some former ailurophobes actually turn into cat lovers with some patient work, while others simply reach a comfort level with cats which allows them to function in society. In extreme cases, medications may also be used to manage the physiological responses involved in the phobia to keep the patient calm while therapeutic techniques are used.