Zoophobia describes an intense, uncontrollable fear of animals. Having a phobia of animals can cause significant stress and lead to reduced quality of life.

However, zoophobia and other phobia-related anxiety disorders are highly treatable.

Keep reading to learn more about zoophobia, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

a therapist talking to a woman about zoophobiaShare on Pinterest
Exposure therapy and CBT are possible treatments for zoophobia.

Zoophobia, or a fear of animals, is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences anxiety or fear in response to seeing or thinking about animals.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions, affecting 31.1% of adults in the United States at some point in their lives and an estimated 264 million people worldwide per year.

A phobia is an intense fear of or anxiety about a specific object or situation. Many phobia triggers, such as blood, needles, and heights, provoke anxiety in most people. However, a person with a phobia feels extreme fear and anxiety that far exceeds the actual threat of the situation or object.

There are a few different types of phobia, including:

  • Specific phobias: These occur when a particular object or situation causes inappropriate levels of fear or anxiety in a person.
  • Social anxiety disorder: This was previously known as social phobia. It involves intense anxiety about social and performative situations.
  • Agoraphobia: This is a fear of being stuck in unsafe situations or environments where escape is difficult and help is unavailable.

Zoophobia is a subset of specific phobias. Some examples of particular zoophobias include:

  • arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  • apiphobia (fear of bees)
  • cynophobia (fear of dogs)
  • entomophobia (fear of insects)
  • ichthyophobia (fear of fish)
  • murophobia (fear of mice and rats)
  • ornithophobia (fear of birds)
  • ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)

In a 2015 report, researchers from Germany found that 5.4% to 11.1% of the general population had a specific phobia during the past 12 months. They also found that 8.3% to 13.8% reported having specific phobias throughout their lifetime.

According to the authors of one 2018 review, zoophobia and fear of heights are the most common specific phobias.

The cause of many specific phobias remains poorly understood.

A person can develop a phobia after a particularly stressful or frightening experience. Also, a child may adopt or learn a phobia after observing a phobic response in a parent, caregiver, or other household member.

One example would be developing a fear of dogs after sustaining a dog bite during childhood.

Although a person can develop a specific phobia at any point in their life, most specific phobias develop during childhood — at about 8 years of age, according to one 2017 study.

The authors of a 2018 review state that many phobias may come and go during childhood and adolescence, but that some may persist into adulthood.

Females develop specific phobias more often than males. Based on the World Mental Health Surveys, around 9.8% of females reported having a specific phobia, compared with only 4.9% of males.

A person with zoophobia may experience the following symptoms:

  • a feeling of uncontrollable fear or anxiety in the presence of or while thinking about the animal that provokes the phobic response
  • attempting to avoid the source of fear at all costs
  • acknowledging that the fear response is excessive and disproportionate to the actual threat, but still being unable to control the feelings
  • an inability to function properly when exposed to the animal that triggers a feeling of fear

Zoophobia usually involves feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety. These psychological responses can lead to the following physical symptoms:

  • an increased heart rate
  • shallow or fast breathing
  • sweating
  • chills
  • trembling or shaking
  • numbness
  • a dry mouth
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • confusion

Children with zoophobia may express anxiety or fear through the following actions:

  • crying
  • screaming
  • having a tantrum
  • attempting to hide behind a person or an object
  • physically clinging to a parent or caregiver
  • becoming still or silent

There are a few treatment options that may help treat or even cure phobias such as zoophobia. The sections below will look at these options in more detail.

Exposure therapy

Currently, exposure therapy is generally the first-line treatment for zoophobia and other types of phobia disorder.

Exposure therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps people confront and ultimately overcome phobias and other anxiety disorders.

During exposure therapy, a trained mental health professional will gradually expose a person to the source of their anxiety or fear. The mental health professional will take note of the person’s reactions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations during the exposure sessions.

Only a licensed mental health professional should administer exposure therapy. They should have received special education and training for treating anxiety disorders and administering exposure therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another effective treatment for zoophobia and other anxiety disorders.

CBT focuses on identifying and altering irrational thoughts and beliefs. People who receive CBT usually work with a licensed therapist to develop a variety of skills that will help them identify and manage irrational beliefs and negative behavior patterns.

People with specific phobias may have a single fear or multiple phobias. Compared with individuals with a single phobia, those with multiple phobias have a higher risk of developing additional mood or anxiety disorders.

Other options

A mental health professional may recommend a combination of exposure therapy, CBT, and medication for people with multiple phobias or anxiety disorders.

Some examples of effective medications for anxiety disorders include:

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for zoophobia. Treatment plans are personalized and address each person’s unique symptoms, preferences, and lifestyle.

Although there are several effective medications available for treating anxiety disorders, all pharmacological treatments carry some risk of side effects.

A person should consult their doctor about the risks and benefits of different treatment options before trying them.

Zoophobia, or a fear of animals, is a specific phobia that often develops during childhood due to a stressful or highly emotional experience.

People with zoophobia exhibit a wide range of symptoms that involve intense, uncontrollable fear when exposed to a certain type of animal. However, zoophobia is highly treatable with exposure therapy, CBT, or both.

People with zoophobia can have other phobias and other anxiety or mood disorders. The presence of multiple mental health conditions may necessitate a combination treatment approach, involving both therapy and medication.