Ailurophobia (pronunciation: aɪˌlʊər əˈfoʊ bi ə) is a type of specific phobia. Particularly, it is a somewhat rare animal phobia characterized by the persistent and excessive fear of cats. Like other specific phobias, the exact cause of ailurophobia is unknown and potential treatment usually involves therapy. The name comes from the Greek words αἴλουρος (ailouros), 'cat' and φόβος (phóbos), 'fear'. Other names for ailurophobia include: felinophobia, elurophobia, gatophobia, and cat phobia. A person with this phobia is known as an ailurophobe.
Ailurophobia is a relatively uncommon phobia compared to other animal phobias, such as ophidiophobia or arachnophobia. Ailurophobes may experience panic and fear when thinking about cats, imagining encountering a cat, inadvertently making physical contact with a cat, or seeing depictions of cats in media. The fear can also prevent the ailurophobe from doing certain activities, like visiting friends' houses, for fear of encountering a cat. They may experience extreme anxiety and fear when hearing meowing, hissing, or other sounds that the ailurophobe associates with cats. In one case, it was reported that a patient with ailurophobia was unable to touch clothing that had a soft, fur-like texture possibly due to the clothing's similarity to a cat's fur.
Though the exact cause of ailurophobia is unknown, ailurophobes often trace their fear back to early in their childhood. This is a trend observed in many other specific phobias, especially those involving animals. One theory is that a singular traumatic incident, like being attacked by a cat or witnessing a cat attack someone else, can trigger the development of this phobia. Other theories as to the inception of ailurophobia include the individual observing another individual's fear, or being inundated with troubling information about the danger of cats.
Another explanation could be that humans are somewhat preconditioned to fear felines because big cats' ancestors preyed upon human's ancestors. This may be the origin of leophobia (fear of lions), tigriphobia (fear of tigers), leopardaliphobia (fear of leopards) and acynonixphobia (fear of cheetahs). Fearing these predators is rational because the danger they can represent, however fearing domestic cats is irrational, due to their small size.
It is widely believed that one of the best treatment for animal phobia is exposure therapy. A particular form of exposure therapy called systematic desensitization has been successful for ailurophobes in the past. Exposure therapy is conducted by systematically exposing a patient to stimuli that are increasingly fear-inducing while only progressing when the patient is comfortable with the prior stimulus. For example, one ailurophobic patient underwent exposure therapy for her fear by being exposed to fur-like fabric, pictures of cats, a toy cat, and finally a friendly live kitten, which the patient subsequently adopted. As the kitten grew and remained friendly, the patient was able to be less afraid of full-grown cats. This method is used to help patients with both ailurophobia and cynophobia.
There are no medications designed to treat ailurophobia. However, anxiety relief and stress relief medications, such as beta blockers and benzodiazepines, can help to mitigate symptoms. D-cycloserine has been linked to facilitating better results in exposure therapy.
In popular culture
In the 1965 animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas, the character Lucy lists a number of phobias to Charlie Brown and incorrectly states, "If you're afraid of cats, you have ailurophasia." The word-forming element "-phasia" is a Greek suffix used to form the names of disorders and phenomena that relate to words and speech, such as cryptophasia, aphasia, dysphasia, and schizophasia.
In the movie series The Mummy, the main antagonist Imhotep has a fear of cats, since he is a living corpse and cats have associations as guardians of the underworld in Egyptian mythology.
The titular character in the anime and manga series Ranma ½ has ailurophobia, leading back to a childhood instance where his father wrapped him in fish sausages and threw him to a large number of hungry cats.
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