An animal lover might have a hard time believing that someone could have a morbid fear of four-legged creatures. Nevertheless, a certain portion of the population suffers from the condition known as zoophobia. As the name implies, zoophobia is medical term for a fear of animals – and it can cause a person a great deal of stress and anxiety. A person suffering from zoophobia may fear all animals – regardless of type – or only fear a specific species of animal such as dogs or horses. What are the symptoms of zoophobia – and what kinds of problems does it cause?
The Debilitating Symptoms of Zoophobia
The symptoms of zoophobia are similar to the symptoms experienced with any phobia. When a person with zoophobia sees an animal they fear, they experience fear and anxiety, which includes panic-type symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, cold sweats, shaking, and a strong desire to flee from the situation. In some cases, simply seeing a picture of the feared animal is enough to cause anxiety.
A person suffering from zoophobia may have a great deal of anticipatory anxiety where they experience stress and anxiety at the thought of seeing an animal. They may avoid certain situations, so they won’t have to risk an animal encounter. For example, they may avoid visiting friends who have pets or not participate in outdoor activities because of their fears.
In some cases, the symptoms of zoophobia can seriously restrict a person’s activities and make it difficult to lead a normal life. It’s a challenging phobia to deal with since animals are so much a part of modern day life.
What Causes the Symptoms of Zoophobia?
Zoophobia is more common in children than in adults. Some people experience the first symptoms of zoophobia during childhood - and they carry over into adulthood - especially if the person never gets treated. Some children (or adults) have a frightening experience with an animal that leads to the first symptoms of zoophobia.
Other people may be genetically prone to anxiety, which relates to imbalances in brain biochemicals. This makes them more susceptible to developing phobias. For most people, a combination of genetics and life experiences can cause a person to develop an irrational fear of animals.
Not All Fear of Animals is Zoophobia
The symptoms of zoophobia stem from an irrational fear of animals. It’s normal, and even healthy, to fear some types of animals such as lions, crocodiles, alligators, tigers, or snakes that can inflict harm on humans. The fear becomes phobic when it’s directed towards animals that aren’t inherently dangerous, or when it becomes so extreme that a person changes their normal activities because of fear.
There’s Help for the Symptoms of Zoophobia
Fortunately, there are specific types of therapy that can help people who suffer from zoophobia overcome their fear. The key is to get help and not try to deal with it alone. A few sessions of counseling with a competent therapist may be all that’s needed to help a person with zoophobia better deal with their fear – and get on with their life.
Psychiatric Clinics of North America - Volume 32, Issue 3 (September 2009).
Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock. 2008.