Can cats suffer from agoraphobia? It is a condition where the sufferer becomes anxious in places that are strange and where they don’t have control. It usually refers to a fear of wide open spaces. In the case of cats, who might suffer from agoraphobia, I am referring to a fear or dread of going outside.
Some cat behaviorists will say that cats can suffer from agoraphobia. I am not sure and the books that I have do not discuss agoraphobia in domestic cats. However, I have seen indoor cats stop at a wide open door to the outside as if there were a glass barrier between them and the enticing garden beyond. They peer out but never cross the invisible barrier.
These are indoor cats and they have developed a slight fear of the outdoors because they have lost their confidence by being confined to a very controlled, ‘safe’ environment. My neighbor has several full-time indoor cats and when she opens the front door they don’t rush out the door but stop at it.
Also, Cardi, a nervous cat who myself and my girlfriend cared for in her last days, would stop at the wide open door to the room she lived in as if there were a barrier there. There was a barrier, in a way: an anxiety about the unknown spaces in the other rooms.
However, I don’t believe Cardi or the other cats I observed were suffering from agoraphobia, which is a medical condition. I believe they were just unsure (although there is a small difference). Full-time indoor cats will naturally be unsure about the wide open spaces of the outside, but given a chance, and time, will eventually go into it and explore.
However, it is said that an agoraphobic cat can be unwilling to go out because of a loss of confidence due to a traumatic event such as having been terrorized by another cat. Other events that might trigger agoraphobia are:
- an encounter with a dog.
- alterations to the house that cause confusion about how to get back inside.
- being hit by a car.
It seems that if this condition does exist in cats it is caused by associating a traumatic event with a certain environment, usually the outdoors.
Gradual desensitization is the cure. Perhaps a cat enclosure would be the answer. Some cat owners would probably be unperturbed if their cat was agoraphobic because being indoors would not be a problem to the cat; quite the opposite. This would suit many cat owners.
When I cared for two cats I found that they liked me to go out with them. Not infrequently, they actually asked me to accompany them into the garden. A cure, therefore for the agoraphobic cat might be to do just that: lead your cat into the garden or yard.
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