Categories: Ailurophobia

Is fear of cats hereditary?

Hatred of cats starts with fear of cats

Is fear of cats hereditary? Or better put: is a fear of cats inherited? I chose the former title because people use that phrase.

There is a nice story on The Daily Journal.com about a fear of cats [link to this story but please come back!]. The author of the article, Ken White, says that he was raised by a person who feared cats; an ailurophobic and she was his mother. She saw cats as evil and crossed the road to avoid them. She’d refer to cats as ‘dirty’ and ‘horrible’.

Poster by Ruth aka Kattaddorra – she is taking the mikey out of Jim Sanderson aka woodsman001 or Woody who trolls on this site and who is an ornithologist.

Ken loves cats and animals as he is the president of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. He has no fear of cats and yet he is the son of a near paranoid ailurophobe – a person who genuinely feared cats. This does not mean that a fear of cats is not inherited but it does mean that offspring don’t always have the same fear of cats as their parents and are unlikely to do so, in my view. Although an ailurophobic parent might instil in a child a strong dislike of cats bordering on fear because of being indoctrinated by him/her about the evil nature of the innocent domestic cat. This would not be inheritance but an example of experience dictating character. In the nature-nurture debate a fear of cats is more to do with ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’.

However, you’ll probably find that ailurophobia is a mixture of inherited traits and personal experiences or experience, the latter being the more important. It is generally agreed that a bad cat encounter early in life is the most common cause.

It can be overcome by a desensitisation process taken patiently. It incorporates a gradual exposure to cats in very small steps until the patient is completely relaxed in their presence.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • In my family it was taught. My mother stayed away from cats, even had a fear of them because she was taught that from her mother who was born around the turn of the century (1900). It was said over and over through her formative years that cats were dirty and dangerous. Must have been hard for a little girl to hear. It didn't take much in the end to change my mother's mind... just being unable to walk (flee) and living in a house full of friendly cats. It just happened naturally but I agree with the method stated by Michael. Same difference.

    I also agree that one bad incident with anything you believe is unpredictable can spoil your perception for life too. I was stung by a bee as a child and so my whole life every time I saw one I freaked out. I forced myself to understand that they only want to be left alone to do their thing, and followed through and don't panic anymore. Since childhood though I worry about Africanized bees, the lesson being I should never read about or learn new things.

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