March 4, 2024

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Animal Planet Directory

Phobia of Animals (Zoophobia): Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Zoophobia refers to a fear of animals. Most of the time, this fear is directed at a specific type of animal. However, it’s also possible for a person with zoophobia to fear all or many types of animals.

Zoophobia is one of the many types of specific phobias. A specific phobia is an anxiety disorder in which you have an intense, exaggerated fear of something like an animal, object, or situation.

How common is phobia of animals?

Overall, specific phobias are common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 12.5 percent of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia during their lifetimes.

Animal phobias are one of the most common types of specific phobia. A small 2018 research review assessed phobias across three large surveys. It found that zoophobia was consistently one of the most reported types of phobia.

The exact cause of zoophobia isn’t known. It’s possible that several factors could contribute to the development of the condition, including:

  • Negative experiences. Having a negative experience with an animal may cause you to fear it. For example, someone who’s been attacked by a dog may become afraid of dogs.
  • Learned behaviors. We may also learn to fear animals from someone who is close to us, such as a parent or sibling. For example, if your parent is terrified of spiders, you may learn to fear them as well.
  • Genetics. There’s a possibility that genetics may also play a role in specific phobias.
  • Fear processing. We process fear and anxiety in different ways. Some people may just be more anxious than others, making them more likely to develop a specific phobia.

One of the main symptoms of a specific phobia is an overwhelming fear of something. This fear is typically exaggerated compared to the threat that the object of fear actually presents.

In the case of zoophobia, someone feels an intense fear when exposed to an animal. It’s important to note that exposure doesn’t have to mean that an animal is actually be present. A person with zoophobia may also feel fear when:

  • thinking about an animal
  • talking about an animal
  • hearing about an animal
  • seeing pictures or videos of an animal

Someone with zoophobia may also avoid activities that expose them to an animal. Some examples include avoiding watching nature documentaries, going to the zoo, or even going over to a friend’s house when they have pets.

There are also physical symptoms that are associated with specific phobias. For example, someone with zoophobia may also experience the following when exposed to an animal:

Signs of zoophobia in children

Children with zoophobia may show additional symptoms, including:

  • freezing up
  • crying
  • clinging
  • throwing a tantrum

It’s possible that someone can develop a zoophobia to any type of animal. It’s also possible that someone can have a fear of all animals. However, some animal-related phobias are more common than others. These include:

From the list above, two types of animals stand apart — snakes and spiders. A 2020 study found that these animals account for most zoophobias. It’s possible that factors like feelings of disgust and perceived danger play a role in how common these two zoophobias are.

If you have zoophobia, there are some things you can do to help you cope:

  • Try to limit avoiding certain activities. Going out of your way to avoid activities where animals may be present can reinforce your phobia.
  • Keep yourself healthy. Taking care of yourself by eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and making sure you get enough sleep can all help to reduce your symptoms.
  • Try stress-reducing techniques. Try to find a way to reduce stress that works for you. Some examples include yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques.
  • Connect with others. Talk with other people, such as family and friends about what you’re feeling. Joining a support group may also help.

If you’re finding that the physical symptoms of your phobia are interfering with your daily life, it may be a good idea to contact a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Some areas of your life that a specific phobia can interfere with include:

  • relationships with friends and loved ones
  • work or school
  • social interactions
  • daily activities

A mental health professional can speak with you about your feelings and symptoms. Using this information, they can develop a treatment plan that’s right for your experience.

Now let’s examine the different treatment options that are available for zoophobia.

Exposure therapy

During exposure therapy, you’ll be gradually exposed to the object of your fear. The first sessions involve exposures that lead to the least amount of anxiety. Working with your therapist, you’ll gradually build up to more anxiety-causing situations.

Let’s use a specific type of zoophobia, ornithophobia (fear of birds), as an example of how this type of therapy could progress over time. We’ll start with the initial scenario and then move toward the most anxiety-producing situation.

  1. thinking about birds
  2. talking about birds
  3. looking at a picture of a bird
  4. listening to the sounds of birds chirping
  5. watching a video reel of different types of birds
  6. going to a zoo to look at the birds
  7. touching or petting a bird
  8. letting a bird sit on your arm or shoulder

As part of your exposure therapy, your therapist will also teach you skills to help you manage the feelings of anxiety that occur due to your phobia. These can include breathing techniques as well as relaxation techniques.

Exposure therapy doesn’t always have to mean an animal will be physically present. A small 2016 study showed that it’s also possible that virtual reality can be used as a part of exposure therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is often combined with exposure therapy. With your therapist, you’ll work through the negative thoughts and feelings that lead to your phobia. You’ll then reshape these beliefs and emotions with the aim of reducing your fear.

Medications

Medications are only typically used for specific phobias on a short-term basis. In some cases, they may be useful to help you cope with anxiety as you undergo treatment.

Two examples of medications you may be prescribed are beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.

However, benzodiazepines are not typically used to treat phobias. According to the FDA, these medications now have to carry a “black box” warning alerting consumers they can be habit-forming and should be taken with precaution.

Remember to always talk with your healthcare provider before taking any medication.

Zoophobia is the fear of animals. It can refer to a fear of a specific animal or to a fear of all animals. Zoophobias are one of the most common types of specific phobia. The most common zoophobias are those to snakes and spiders.

Someone with zoophobia feels intensely anxious when around an animal or animals. This feeling is typically exaggerated compared to the threat that the animal actually poses. Physical symptoms can also occur.

Zoophobias can be treated using therapy and, occasionally, medications. If you have an animal-related fear that’s significantly interfering with your life, you may want to consider contacting a mental health professional to talk about it.

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