Zoophobia, fear of animals

Have you ever avoided visiting a friend at home for fear of running into their dog? Did you panic when you saw a cockroach on the sidewalk on a summer night? So maybe you suffer from zoophobia.

Fear of animals is common and sometimes justified. However, when it is disproportionate or interferes with daily life it becomes necessary to address it.

The atavistic fear of animals is shared by many human beings and it is related to the memories and instincts that we inherit from our ancestors. Fearing being attacked by an animal if we find ourselves alone in a forest at night is reasonable. However, sometimes it becomes irrational and excessive and it is here that it is called phobia.

What is zoophobia?

Zoophobia is an intense, persistent and irrational fear of animals. It is a set of specific phobias that can occur in isolation or in combination.

Thus, there are those who specifically fear dogs (cynophobia), rats (murophobia) or bees (apiphobia), among other options. However, in some people this fear extends to several animals, with very few cases of generalized phobia towards all of them.

As it is a specific phobia, the symptoms are those of this diagnostic category:

  • Intense, excessive and disproportionate fear of animals: one or more, depending on the case.
  • The person is aware that his fear is irrational, but cannot stop experiencing it.
  • All contact with the feared animal is avoided or escapes from your presence as soon as possible.
  • If there is no possibility of fleeing the situation, it is endured at the cost of great discomfort. You can even have panic attacks.
  • Anxiety and fear create significant discomfort or interfere with the normal functioning of daily life.

Phobias are excessive fears that affect daily activities when directed to objects that can be found on a daily basis.

Find out more: Arachnophobia, the irrational fear of spiders

How does it manifest?

Zoophobia is an anxiety disorder and, therefore, it presents manifestations at different levels. Thus, in the presence of the dreaded animal, physiological symptoms such as tachycardia, sweating, chest tightness, dizziness or stomach discomfort may appear.

On the other hand, cognitively, feelings of restlessness and agitation arise, as well as fear of losing control or suffering harm. Worry can come in anticipation. In this case, negative thoughts arise at the very idea of ​​being able to be near the animal in the near future.

By last, at the motor level, flight, escape and avoidance behaviors are manifested. It is also common for the person to be hypervigilant in situations where there is the possibility of coming into contact with the feared stimulus.

What is the origin of zoophobia?

The causes of zoophobia can be different. As we discussed earlier, atavistic fears play an important role. But also, another type of Situations and personal experiences can influence the origin of this fear to the animals:

  • Having been attacked by an animal or having experienced an unpleasant situation with it.
  • Witnessing a negative experience of another person in relation to an animal.
  • Learn, through modeling, behaviors and attitudes of fear towards animals. For example, when a child grows up with parents with a phobia of dogs.

Keep reading: Cinophobia or phobia of dogs: why does it appear and how to overcome it?

Available treatments

The treatment of choice for zoophobia, as in the rest of the specific phobias, is exposure. This can be done in a number of ways.

Live exposure is the most effective. It consists of progressively exposing the person to situations that involve the presence of the feared animal. In this way he gets used to and understands the harmlessness of what he fears.

However, live exposure is not always possible. For example, if a person has a phobia of bees or spiders, it is not easy to organize and schedule gradual exposures to these animals. For this reason, in these cases other alternatives can be used, such as exposure in imagination or virtual reality.

Too It is very positive to train the person with zoophobia in some breathing or relaxation technique. This will allow you to regulate arousal and reduce anxiety when faced with the feared stimulus. In the same way, it is necessary to restructure possible dysfunctional thoughts regarding the animal and the damage it can cause.

Exposure therapy is the most widely used methodology to address the problem of zoophobia.

Living with zoophobia

The consequences of zoophobia are not always as serious. In some cases it is a relatively non-disabling disorder, since the person can avoid contact with the feared animals. For example, if someone is afraid of fish, it will be enough to not go near seas and rivers.

But nevertheless, at other times fear interferes with the person's daily life. For example, those who have a phobia of pigeons; they avoid by all means the public spaces where they can find them.

Because of the above, many times the person with zoophobia simply learns to live with their fear. Since the treatment is simple and effective, the disorder is worth addressing and resolving.