Ailurophobia is a type of specific phobia: the persistent, excessive fear of cats.[1] The name comes from the Greek words αἴλουρος (ailouros), 'cat' and φόβος (phóbos), 'fear'. Other names include felinophobia,[2] elurophobia,[2] and cat phobia.[2] A person with such a fear is known as an ailurophobe.


The exact cause of ailurophobia is unclear; it may be due to experiencing a previous attack by a cat or witnessing someone else be attacked, but genetic and environmental factors may also play a part. Specific phobias, especially animal phobias, often develop in childhood.[3]

An ailurophobe may experience panic and fear when thinking about cats, including imagining the possibility of encountering a cat, inadvertently making physical contact with a cat, even seeing depictions of cats in the media. They may experience extreme anxiety and fear when hearing meowing, hissing, or similar sounds made by cats.[3]

Big cats such as lions or tigers can also trigger the stimuli associated with the phobia.[4] This phobia, in relation to big cats, may have biological (or even evolutionary) origin. There is evidence that the Australopithecus (ancestor of the genus Homo) were prey of Dinofelis, a feline of the extinct Machairodontinae subfamily. In size they were between a modern leopard and a lion, with most about the size of a jaguar (70 cm tall and up to 120 kg). However, analysis of carbon isotope ratios in specimens from Swartkrans indicates that Dinofelis' preferentially hunted grazing animals. The main predators of hominids in the environment at that time were most likely leopards and fellow machairodont Megantereon, whose carbon isotope ratios showed more indication of preying on hominids.[5]


Exposure therapy is one of the most effective treatments.[3] One strongly motivated patient was able to recover using this method, by slowly becoming accustomed to cat fur, under therapist supervision, by first touching varying types of velvet, then becoming accustomed to a toy kitten, and finally a live kitten, which the patient subsequently adopted. As the kitten grew, she also became less afraid of full-grown cats.[6]

Systematic desensitization is a specific type of exposure therapy that involves learning relaxation techniques to help manage feelings of fear and anxiety during exposure therapy. Eventually, these exercises can also help form new associations, such as eliciting a relaxation response instead of a stress response when confronted by a cat.[3]

There are not any medications specifically designed to treat phobias, but some can help with short-term management of symptoms. These include:[3]

  • Beta-blockers. Beta-blockers help with physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate and dizziness. They are generally taken before going into a situation that triggers physical symptoms.
  • Benzodiazepines. These are sedatives that also help decrease anxiety symptoms. While they can be helpful, they also have a high risk of addiction.
  • D-cycloserine (DCS). This is a drug that may help enhance the benefits of exposure therapy.

In popular cultureEdit

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."[7] The word-forming element "-phasia" is a scientific Greek suffix used to form the names of disorders and phenomena relating to words and speech, such as cryptophasia, aphasia, dysphasia, and schizophasia.[8]

In the 1934 horror film, The Black Cat, the protagonist portrayed by Bela Lugosi suffers from an extreme version of the phobia.

In the 1969 horror film, Eye of the Cat, where the protagonist planning the murder of an elderly woman has a fear of cats.

In the 1988 anime City Hunter 2, the character Umibozu has a fear of cats.

In the 1989 anime Ranma 1/2, the main character Ranma Saotome has a fear of cats.

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.

In the 2016 anime High School Fleet the character Mashiro Munetani has a fear of cats.

In the 2017 anime Nyanko Days, the character Arashi Iketani has a fear of cats.

The title character in the comic strip Big Nate has ailurophobia.

The character Robbie Jackson, in the BBC soap opera EastEnders has the condition.

In the game Minecraft, the Creeper will run away from cats and ocelots.

In The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, the expansion to the video game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, an orc named Ushnar gro-Shadborgob is deathly afraid of cats and the humanoid feline Khajiits.

In the show Impractical Jokers, Sal Vulcano is deathly afraid of cats. The other jokers sometimes use cats in his "punishments".

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ London, Louis S. (January 1952). "Ailurophobia and ornithophobia: Cat phobia and bird phobia". The Psychiatric Quarterly. 26 (1–4): 365–371. doi:10.1007/BF01568473. PMID 14949213.
  2. ^ a b c Szasz, Thomas. A lexicon of lunacy: metaphoric malady, moral responsibility, and psychiatry. p. 68.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Ailurophobia, or Fear of Cats: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment". Healthline. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  4. ^ Freeman, H. L.; D. C. Kendrick (August 1960). "A case of cat phobia. Treatment by a method derived from experimental psychology". BMJ. 2 (5197): 497–502. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5197.497. PMC 2097085. PMID 13824737.
  5. ^ "Dinofelis – hominid hunter or misunderstood feline?".
  6. ^ Freeman, H. L.; D. C. Kendrick (August 1960). "A case of cat phobia. Treatment by a method derived from experimental psychology". BMJ. 2 (5197): 497–502. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5197.497. PMC 2097085. PMID 13824737.
  7. ^ Schulz, Charles. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (PDF). Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 September 2016. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  8. ^ See -phasia at Wiktionary.

Further readingEdit

  • Crawford, Nelson Antrim (1934). "Cats Holy and Profane". Psychoanalytic Review. 21: 168–179. Retrieved 9 April 2009.