What is Zoophobia? (An Overview)

In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Zoophobia.

An irrational fear of animals is called Zoophobia.

This is a type of animal specific phobia in which one fears all animals. This type of specific phobia comes under anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. 

Someone suffering from Zoophobia will suffer anxiety not just when exposed to animals but also when they think about them.

The animals one fears in this phobia include animals ranging from cockroaches, insects to dogs, cats, sharks, giraffes etc. 

Sufferers can also have panic attacks if the anxiety worsens. Therefore, one avoids their fear stimuli (animals one is fearful of) in order to manage anxiety.

This avoidance justifies their fear because it produces pleasant feelings. One is determinant of the fact that animals are to be afraid of. 

These recurrent acts of avoidance can develop into compulsions and the sufferer can have OCD in the future. 

As the DSM-V suggests, extreme anxiety and avoidance can affect one’s social and occupational functioning.

For example, sufferers will choose to live in a more populated area as compared to a rural one for the fear of encountering animals.

One might not be able to leave his house so they don’t get exposed to insects/dogs etc. (animals they fear). 

Children are unable to attend school or adults’ offices because they suffer from Zoophobia.

Individuals self-isolate oneself in their houses or rooms. This can lead to them suffering from depression in the long run. 

Zoophobia is the irrational fear of animals. One is fearful of all animals for example, dogs, sharks, snakes. This is a type of animal specific phobia. 

Symptoms of Zoophobia 

As with all the other specific phobias, anxiety is the main symptom of Zoophobia.

This irrational fear is the driving force, which encourages sufferers to avoid animals.

This avoidance can be stressful as they will put in all their efforts to escape a fearful situation.

As mentioned earlier, this is what effects their social relations and occupations. 

Sufferers go into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.

In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.

They either decide to escape the situation (flight) or stay and combat their fear (fight). 

In the case of Zoophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to animals (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.

Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.   

Including anxiety, Zoophobia also causes a number of other symptoms in the sufferer.

They are as follows: 

  • Extreme anxiety in the presence of animals.
  • Extreme anxiety by just thinking about animals 
  • Avoiding animals 
  • Full-blown panic attacks 
  • Inability to handle anxiety 
  • Muscle tension/tremors 
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate 
  • Feeling dizzy 
  • Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus). 
  • Migraine 
  • Nausea 
  • Butterflies in the stomach 

Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Zoophobia. 

Causes of Zoophobia 

Like every other specific phobia, Zoophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience. 

Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Zoophobia than someone who doesn’t.

This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.  

This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.

According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Zoophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of animals. 

This triggering event can be for example, being attacked by an animal in childhood.

The sufferer might have developed this fear since then because of the pain or unpleasant feelings it caused. 

 Another example of an environmental cause can be, learning to be afraid of certain animals by looking at parents.

It is possible that someone whose parents are afraid of specific animals or upon hearing an unpleasant experience of an individual’s encounter with them can induce fear in the person. 

Also, watching documentaries about animals attacking humans or causing harm to them can be the reason for one to develop Zoophobia. 

Therefore, it is evident that there is no one cause for specific phobias to develop.

Genetics with environmental factors, together will cause one to have Zoophobia. 

Treatment of Zoophobia 

Zoophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.

Like all the other specific phobias, Zoophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms. 

• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.

Zoophobia is defined as the irrational fear of animals.

Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones. 

The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to animals.

Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts. 

The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.

The ABCD stands for: 

i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.

ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.

iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought 

iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to        dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.

 This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.  

• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) 

This is another effective therapy used to treat Zoophobia.

It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this ‘animal’ specific phobia.

Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group). 

           i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.

The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.

Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.

         ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.

Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.

This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. 

For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the blowing wind, making use of their auditory sense. 

        iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.

Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.

Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem/fearful aspects to it.

• Exposure Therapy 

It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Zoophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).

In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.

To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of animals one is fearful of, for example. 

As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.

In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is around the animal(s) he fears.

During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.

 Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real animals, in a zoo for example. 

While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.

These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.

This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.

Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes. 

However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of animals, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.

• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 

MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.

Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.

In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.

This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing. 

For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.

• Drug Therapy 

Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Zoophobia.

Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken. 

This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.

However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation. 

Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:

                       i. Anti-anxiety Drugs

Medicines like Valium are anti-anxiety drugs.

They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms. 

                      ii. Antidepressant Drugs

These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.

Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.

They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.

• Yoga/Meditation 

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Zoophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.

Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga posture.

Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.

 Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.

Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.

The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about animals.

Whether the cause of Zoophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).

Titles to read 

  • Wasp Phobia – Fifteen Minute Therapy

by James Brackin

  • Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Dogs, Snakes, Rodents, Bees, Spiders, and More

by Martin M. Antony and Randi E. McCabe

  • The A-Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties (Facts on File Library of Health & Living)

by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.

  • CYNOPHOBIA: Practical Hacks on How to Overcome the Fear of Dogs

by Corrie Burns

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q1) What causes Zoophobia?

Like all other specific phobias, Zoophobia is caused by either a genetic predisposition and or an environmental trigger event. 

Q2) How common is Zoophobia? 

It is one of the most common types of animal specific phobia. Around 13% of the women and 4% of the men suffer from specific phobias. 

Q3) What does Zoophobia mean? 

Zoophobia is the irrational fear of animals.

One will find the sight or thought of animals extremely terrifying if they suffer from this type of phobia. 

Q4) What animals do humans fear the most? 

Mountain lions, alligators and bears are known to be the most common animals one fears in America.

Examples of other interesting phobias

Enetophobia
Hobophobia
Kolpophobia
Kopophobia
Kosmikophobia
Negrophobia
Zelophobia

What we recommend for Phobias

Professional counselling

  • If you are suffering from Phobias then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you address the fears you are facing.

Panic Courses

  • Phobias and anxiety go hand in hand and in the end they result in Panic. A panic course such as this may help you alleviate those feelings of fears as it has with over 50,000 people.

Weighted Blankets

Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if your phobias are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night

Citations 

  • https://psychtimes.com/zoophobia-fear-of-animals/
  • https://www.fearof.net/fear-of-animals-phobia-zoophobia/
  • https://fearof.org/zoophobia/
  • https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11713

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