The most common cause of the fear of cats is a bad experience with a cat, usually when a person is young and impressionable. Perhaps they were bitten by a cat or jumped out of their skins when a cat bared its teeth and hissed. These negative emotions stay with him or her, and develop into a phobia. The forming of a phobia is a protective mechanism of the unconscious mind.
A person who has experienced many emotional traumas involving an incident with a cat will continue to experience a phobic response.
This emotional trauma includes seeing a cat evoke a strong negative response from someone else. Parental modelling is a good example of this. If a parent has a fear of cats, the young child will see this and imitate the behaviour to model after his or her parent.
Some people may not even remember a negative experience with a cat from their childhood, but their body will still undergo the typical phobic's flight or fight response.
Ailurophobia, as with other fears, may also be the manifestation of an unrelated fear a person cannot face. This cause tends to be associated with less tangible fears, such as the unknown. Placing the fear of the unknown onto a physical thing, such as a cat, enables a person to express it.
Superstitions and supernatural beliefs may also cause a person to fear cats. Many people hold the belief that cats, in particular black cats, are unlucky. Such beliefs can form into a phobia.