Zoophobia is the fear of a specific animal or a variety of animals that an individual may develop after a traumatic experience with an animal or with other anxiety areas.
The extreme or excessive fear and avoidance of animals that can get in the way of someone's ability to spend time with family with pets, engage in outdoor activities, or engage in other day-to-day events can indicate a phobia. This intense fear can be present, even if an individual can tell themselves the fear is irrational. While natural anxiety about animals that an individual may encounter in a high-risk situation, coming across elk during mating season while hiking in a remote area or coming across an injured large animal that feels scared, is healthy, often the excessive fear associated with phobia contributes to difficulty engaging with domestic animals such as pet dogs (Cynophobia). It can be helpful to consider the cost and benefits of avoiding areas associated with feared animals or thoughts about animals. Avoidance can contribute to less anxious distress when the feared situation is avoided. Still, it may lead to fewer and fewer interactions with others, leaving the house, spending time in nature, or enjoying shows with feared animals.
The triggers for developing phobia can be related to traumatic experiences in childhood or adulthood, family members or community members with an intense fear of animals, an underlying genetic predisposition for anxiety-related concerns, or repeated negative interactions with feared animals.
Zoophobia treatment often involves a combination of therapies. The goal is to help you live a higher quality of life without disruptions. According to the Cleveland Clinic:
"Exposure therapy is often the first treatment for specific phobias. It relieves symptoms for about 9 out of 10 people who do it faithfully. Often, it’s the only phobia treatment people need. You learn to manage anxiety or fear by gradually introducing the specific fear into your life. For example, you may practice looking at pictures of animals, watching nature videos or thinking about animals."
If a friend or loved one is afraid of dogs, it's important to be empathetic to their situation. No matter how friendly a dog may be, don't try to force them to interact with your dog. Only trained professionals should be the ones to direct this kind of exposure.
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National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia). Accessed 4/12/2022.
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