So what is zoophobia anyway, and why is it so scary?
Zoophobia breaks down into "the fear of animals." This means that animals give the person with zoophobia intense anxiety. Sometimes zoophobia is only a fear of a single animal (meaning that zoophobia is an umbrella term), but other times, it's a fear of all animals.
Zoophobia may also break down into fears of specific subgroups of animals, such as marsupials, bugs, birds, and so on. Most people have heard of several types of zoophobias, such as:
Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
Entomophobia (fear of insects)
Mellisophobia (fear of bees)
Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
That said, there are plenty of other phobias that relate to animals. Any animal can present as a threat to someone with that type of zoophobia.
Zoophobia is irrational. It's normal to have some level of anxiety around certain types of animals. This is hardwired into our brains.
For example, fearing snakes is an evolutionary trait because we know that some snakes are dangerous (if not deadly). That said, having a fear of snakes that is so intense that it is disruptive is what makes it into a phobia.
Fear of animals
Classification of Zoophobia
Zoophobia is a specific phobia. That means that it's an intense and irrational fear of something that (usually) is no threat.
Specific phobias come in all varieties, and they aren't uncommon. Many people have irrational fears of things like heights, flying, needles, and more. Again, while these fears are healthy on a "normal" level, they can be disruptive for someone who has an intense phobia.
In other words, for something to be a phobia, it has to disrupt your day-to-day existence.
Signs and Symptoms of Zoophobia
There are several signs and symptoms that make it clear that someone has zoophobia (or any phobia). They're similar to the signs and symptoms of anxiety.
When someone is confronted with the animal in question, they react with an immediate "fight or flight" response. It's an automatic physiological reaction to a perceived threat.
Their blood vessels may dilate, their heart rate will increase, they'll have trouble breathing, and their skin may feel clammy or cold. Their eyes may dilate.
Alongside this, they'll feel tightness in their chest. They may feel as though they're going to have a heart attack (when in reality, it's a panic attack). Their mouth may dry out and it's not unlikely that they'll feel the urge to run away.
These reactions happen upon the sight of the animal. It will feel impossible to approach the animal, and the person may freeze up.
Consider what happens when there's a spider in your home. If you don't have arachnophobia, you may feel uncomfortable with this uninvited guest, but you can leave it alone or catch it under a jar.
A person with arachnophobia can not do this. Instead, they may leave the home altogether and feel too uncomfortable to return.
Phobias will impact relationships with friends or family members, they may stop people from interacting with the world in general, and they may even stop going to work or school.
So what about children with zoophobia? Children aren't yet able to articulate their feelings, so it's important for adults to identify symptoms and signs of their phobias so they can provide comfort.
It's normal for children to fear spiders, snakes, and large animals. When they start experiencing serious anxiety symptoms, however, it's a problem. These symptoms include (among others):
Shortness of breath
These are the most obvious signs to onlookers. Children also experience hidden anxiety symptoms like rapid heartbeats, a "choking" feeling, and more.
Causes of Zoophobia
Zoophobia can have several causes or no cause at all. Again, it's ingrained in us to have some level of fear around certain animals.
A bad experience with an animal (especially a bad childhood experience) can cause zoophobia in the future. For example, a child who experiences a dog bite may grow into an adult who is afraid of all dogs, even if they know that most dogs are friendly and harmless.
If someone was to watch a nature documentary that shows animals being violent or even a horror movie with animals, they may develop a phobia.
Phobias are treatable, but it can be difficult to do so. It takes a lot of work and perseverance to overcome a phobia. Here are a few methods that people use to treat their phobias.
Therapy is the best way to treat a phobia. There are several popular therapy methods, and not every method will work for every person.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a frontline therapy method. It teaches patients how to separate their emotions from their thoughts and reactions. This means that they can confront their fear with rationality.
CBT also teaches coping mechanisms for anxiety. This will allow patients to navigate their phobias and control their reactions.
Exposure therapy is a more intense form of therapy for phobias. The therapist will go through several "levels" of exposure until the patient is able to tolerate the animal in question.
They may start with something mild, like thinking or talking about the animal. They'll move on to looking at photos or listening to recordings, and then watching videos.
They may look at the animal in the wild or in a safe space, like the zoo. If applicable, the patient may pet the animal or even hold it. This is a slow process, but it's helpful.
Medication is helpful for managing phobias short-term or in conjunction with therapy. Psychiatrists will prescribe anxiety medications.
Most often, these medications are benzodiazepines, such as clonazepam. These reduce anxiety short term, making them great for people who need to get through a situation without panicking.
These medications are habit-forming.
Lifestyle changes will not fix your zoophobia, but they can help. Someone with zoophobia should try to eat well and exercise so they can keep their body in good condition.
They should practice coping mechanisms and try mindful activities. We'll discuss further lifestyle changes and management styles further on in the article
Anything that relates to the animal can trigger zoophobia. Depending on the "level" of phobia that the person suffers from, triggers can even be as mild as thinking about the animal.
Seeing photos of the animal can cause intense anxiety. Hearing the animal (like a dog barking outside or in a movie) can cause the person with zoophobia to have a reaction.
Seeing the animal in person will almost always trigger the phobia, but even seeing it in a video can cause a reaction.
If you find that you're unable to tolerate even a hint of the animal being present, it might mean that you have zoophobia. Try to measure your reactions and consider talking to a professional if a phobia seems likely.
Ways to Manage Zoophobia
So how can someone manage zoophobia when they're not getting professional treatment?
First, practice coping mechanisms. It's helpful to learn grounding techniques, such as the "54321" method. Consider meditation and soothing activities such as yoga.
Make an effort to avoid the animal that you're afraid of unless your therapist advises otherwise. You may have to change this as "homework," but for the time being, don't give yourself any excess stress if you don't have to.
Connect with friends and family. Phobias can cause people to self-isolate, but this will make things worse. Consider seeing a support group to connect with people who understand your situation.
What The Research Says
Scientists are working on understanding zoophobia (and all phobias) so they can find new and more effective ways to treat them.
Scientists and researchers are now using neuroimaging techniques to try to get a firmer grasp on how phobias "look" in our brains and why they trigger such intense responses.
They see that the amygdala is a key player. The shorter pathway within the amygdala triggers an immediate (but inaccurate) response, while the longer pathway allows time for evaluation. The phobia is a result of not being able to take that time to evaluate the situation.
Researchers know that phobias are similar to conditions like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the research revolves around these conditions rather than phobias themselves.
Risks Associated With Zoophobia
Zoophobia is not risky in and of itself. Again, the phobia is irrational, so the person with the phobia is in no real danger (even if they feel otherwise).
That said, side effects associated with zoophobia can be detrimental to someone's life.
One dangerous side effect of zoophobia is an inclination toward substance abuse as a form of self-medication. Many people who don't have access to reliable and quick mental health resources may turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their anxiety and fear.
Zoophobia may trigger generalized anxiety and depression. When someone feels as though they're unable to interact with the world without fear, they may become depressed and burned out.
Further worsening this depression, zoophobia can cause people to isolate themselves. They may miss out on social activities because of the fear of the animal that they're afraid of, even if they know that it's unlikely for any mention of that animal to arise.
If the phobia is intense, untreated, and almost impossible to avoid (such as a fear of common pets or local outdoor animals), the person with the phobia may be at risk of suicide.
There is no true test for zoophobia, but if you visit a mental health professional with your concerns, they can work on a diagnosis based on the DSM-5.
They'll evaluate you through several therapy sessions to make sure that what you're dealing with is a true phobia. This allows you to get appropriate treatment. It's possible that your phobia is actually PTSD from a repressed event or generalized anxiety.
For many people, phobias are curable. For others, they're manageable. Either way, seeking out mental health resources will help you remove the phobia from your life.
It takes a lot of effort to overcome phobias. The patient will have to have intensive therapy and perhaps medication management in order to move beyond their phobia.
Because phobias are so life-altering, this effort is worthwhile. No one has to live with intense zoophobia forever.
Zoophobia isn't a simple fear of animals. It's a debilitating condition that can get in the way of someone's day-to-day life and experiences. Someone with zoophobia has an irrational fear, and they will benefit from specific help and treatment from a professional.
If you're looking for accessible and quick mental health resources, but you don't yet have the right insurance to make that possible, Insurdinary wants to help. We'll help you find the right insurance plan for you so you can start taking control of your life.