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What Is the Fear of Cats?


Updated August 30, 2012

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Question: What Is the Fear of Cats?

Known as both gatophobia and ailurophobia, the fear of cats is not as common as the fear of dogs. Nonetheless, the fear of cats can have profound effects on your daily life, making it impossible to visit cat-loving friends and forcing you to limit your daily activities. The fear of cats is generally divided into two categories-the fear of physical harm and the fear of evil.


Physical Harm

Although it can be tough to remember when cuddling a tiny kitten, cats are, by nature, predators. Domesticated house cats retain many of the same basic instincts as lions, tigers, panthers and other large cats. Those who have been bitten or scratched by a cat in the past may be at higher risk of developing a phobia of cats.

Some people are unafraid of indoor cats, particularly those that have been declawed, but are terrified of unfamiliar cats that they encounter outdoors. Some fear only male cats, which they perceive as being more threatening than females. Still others are afraid of all cats and kittens, regardless of circumstances.

Fear of Evil

Throughout history, cats have been alternately revered and reviled due to their alleged supernatural powers. In Ancient Egypt, cats were worshipped as deities. It was believed that they were under the special protection of Bast, goddess of fertility and of the moon. Deceased cats were often mummified and buried in the great cemeteries. Killing a cat, intentionally or accidentally, was often a capital offense.

Perhaps no movement is as closely tied with the vilification of cats as the 17th-century witch hunts in both Europe and the American colonies. Beginning in the Middle Ages, cats were often seen as witches' servants, nocturnal messengers capable of doing the witch's bidding. By the time of the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and 1693, cats were widely believed to be witches' links to the devil himself.

Today, the fear of cats as harbingers of evil is typically rooted in a religion-based phobia. People who are undergoing a crisis of faith may be more likely to develop this fear. In some cases, the fear of evil is a sign of disordered thinking, but modern therapists are careful to take clients' religious beliefs into account before making a diagnosis.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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