An animal phobia is characterized by an extreme and irrational fear of any or all animals. While it is normal for anyone to have a fear of certain types of animals, this fear does not usually hinder the normal operation of their lives. For the animal phobic, simply knowing that an encounter with a certain type of animal is imminent can lead the sufferer to change his or her plans in order to avoid all animals or specific kinds of animals.
Causes of Animal Phobia
Like all phobias, there is no universally specific explanation for animal phobia. Rather, it is the various unique experiences of each individual that leads to the development of such a disorder. Some examples of experiences that could have resulted in the development of animal phobia include early life traumatic events that involved animals, witnessing such events, or even upbringing by parents or caregivers that stressed a fear or aversion towards animals. Regardless, if left untreated this phobia can only become worse and further hinder the social and emotional life of the sufferer.
Symptoms of Animal Phobia
If you believe that you or someone you know may have animal phobia, here are some symptoms to look for:
- Feelings of dread or panic when exposed to or thinking about animals
- Automatic or uncontrollable reactions when exposed to or thinking about animals
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme avoidance of all of specific animals
Treatment of Animal Phobia
Like many phobias, treatment for the disorder is usually best left to a mental health practitioner. The goal of any such expert is to first target the initial inciting factor that caused the person’s irrational and extreme fear. The patient and therapist talk about why the fear unfounded, how they can come to terms with any traumatic experiences that caused the phobia, as well as ways to deal with the symptoms of the condition. This type of therapy is usually very effective, with a vast majority of patients completely overcoming or successfully coping with animal phobia symptom-free for years, if not for the remainder of their lives.
Some therapists opt to use cognitive behavioral therapy. With this type of treatment, the patient meets with the therapist and in a systematic and gradual progression confronts the source of fear while learning to control the physical and mental reactions to it. By facing the phobia head on, the patient becomes accustomed to it and thus ultimately realizes that his or her initial fears were not grounded in real or imminent danger.
If you are searching for help with animal phobia, finding it is quite easy. There are plenty of therapists and peer groups willing to help not only with the disorder but also the psychological difficulties attendant with it. If self-help is not working, do not hesitate to reach out to these resources for support.
- American Psychiatric Association – info about phobias in general, causes, treatment.
- anxietycare.org – detailed background information on animal phobias and phobias in general.