Can cats be claustrophobic?

We don’t know whether cats can be claustrophobic. You won’t find the answer in authoritative books. You will find answers on the internet but the author of those articles will be speculating. I don’t know the answer but I do have the distinct impression that cats are unlikely to feel the sensation of claustrophobia.

Claustrophobia is the irrational fear of confined spaces. It is considered an anxiety disorder. Cats don’t like confined spaces but this is not due to an irrational fear. We don’t like confined spaces; no one does. However, some people react in an extreme way. This is the claustrophobic person. It has to be irrational. Cats act instinctively and therefore I am not sure that they can be irrational. The word ‘claustrophobia’ was created by humans for humans.

There is one possibility when a particular cat might have a particular fear of confined spaces and that is if she had been traumatised within a confined space thereby becoming frightened and associating confined spaces with fear and frightening events. This individual may have claustrophobic tendencies but it would be a rational fear rather than an irrational one.

Inherently domestic cats like a certain amount of space usually about four acres for a home range. Therefore if they are shut in a room, for instance, without any sense that they’ll be released, they might feel confined and become upset. They might try to get out and scratch at the door and cause problems but this should not be seen as an irrational fear of confined spaces. They simply want to get out of the room because they are unhappy in it and probably anxious. The anxiety is probably linked to survival.

I read a post on the website reddit.com in which a woman said that she locked her cat in a room overnight because she did not want him disturbing her in another room while she slept. The cat made a lot of noise and tried to get out. This kept her awake. She thought her cat was claustrophobic and sought advice. My advice to her would be to rehome the cat because she is obviously unsuited to the task of looking after him.

I have never bumped into a discussion by any cat behaviourist on the issue of claustrophobia. I have searched high and low through the best books on cat behaviour including Dr. Bradshaw’s Cat Sense and another excellent book, The Domestic Cat: the Biology of Its Behaviour, and Cat Watching by Dr Morris to name three. There are no references in any of these books or others (to my knowledge) on claustrophobia in cats.

People are only just getting used to the idea of domestic cats having emotions. The ‘experts’ are only now understanding that cats do have emotions but we’re still not sure how well developed that aspect of cat biology is. Therefore, take it from me, people don’t know for sure the answer to the question in the title.

But, as I’ve said, the best answer will be that cats don’t like confined spaces but that they are unlikely to have an irrational fear of them. If one cat is keener than another to get out of a confined space it is because he dislikes it more than the other cat for various reasons one of which may be that he is more used to freeroaming, free-living and open spaces than the other cat.

I don’t believe that the domestic cat’s liking of boxes has anything to do with claustrophobia or the opposite: agoraphobia. Cats do like boxes because they provide a sense of security but this does not support the idea that cats are unlikely to be claustrophobic. They are two different subjects.

I think full-time indoor cats can (but usually don’t) develop agoraphobic tendencies because of a lifetime in a relatively confined space: the human home.

Agoraphobia in Cats

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7 thoughts on “Can cats be claustrophobic?”

  1. I have been trapping/rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing feral, abandoned cats since 1992. I have yet to come across a cat that did not become a very happy indoor cat. Very feral cats don’t react very much in traps – their reactions are usually those of total submission “so what else will you do to me?” Some may thrash around in surprise, then settle down; others just cower quietly. There is no standard reaction – every case and cat is different, depending on whether they were truly feral, or abandoned and regressed. We also had a cat who insisted on being fed at 3 AM; if we closed the bedroom door, he relentlessly scratched and banged on it until I finally gave in. Had I known then what I know now, I would have kept a bowl of food for him in the bedroom – no such problems now with many more cats.

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  2. The human body can make the mind claustrophobic.

    It happened to me in 2005.I was taken suddenly & seriously ill. As part of the illness, my right lung was squashed flat by fluid. This is called a pleural effusion, it is something the chest does when lungs are under threat from a nearby source of infection or physical injury. The fluid forms a cushion around the deflated lung and a barrier to pathogens.

    Until the ICU doc told me, I had no idea where the sudden terror that overwhelmed me when a curtain was slightly drawn, a door or window closed, came from or why.

    The sudden onset of claustrophobia was a normal response to oxygen shortage. As the illness was so devastating, keeping the claustrophobia going strongly was my brain translating the need for protection to my mind, so I would be compelled to stay in wide open spaces where there was a lot of oxygen.

    Claustrophobia was one of the most frightening
    experiences I have ever had. When conscious, I was just rational enough to understand what I was being told. How much more terrifying for a cat who is at a double disadvantage in that cats do not speak human, nor humans speak cat?

    I hope no other species but us get claustrohobia, it is truly terrifying.

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