Zoophobia is a fear of animals. This phobia is quite common among young children, and in some people, it persists into adulthood. For patients, this condition can be very debilitating and distressing, since many people make animals a part of their lives, and non-human animals are a common sight around the world. There are a number of treatment approaches which can be used to address people who suffer from this condition.
In some cases, someone with zoophobia simply fears all animals, great and small alike. Other patients may fear a specific kind of animals; entomophobia, for example, is the fear of insects. There are a number of causes for this disorder to develop, ranging from childhood trauma to the obscure workings of the brain. Understanding the cause is often an important part of therapy.
An individual with zoophobia experiences classic symptoms of panic when he or she encounters animals. Nervousness, anxiety, an accelerated heart rate, sweating, and dizziness can all occur, along with symptoms like vomiting. The patient may mentally run through a series of worst case scenarios, or simply experience generalized anxiety around the animal. Patients may also feel socially awkward or uncomfortable because other people do not understand or respect the severity of the phobia.
Treatment can incorporate a number of approaches. Some sort of behavioral therapy is usually strongly recommended. This can include sessions in which a patient simply talks with a therapist about the phobia to explore the cause and potential approaches, or desensitization sessions, in which the patient is exposed to animals or images of animals in small increments to grow more comfortable with them. Therapy animals who have been specifically trained to deal with people in distress may be used for this type of therapy.
People may also take medications to manage zoophobia. This option is usually offered in cases where people suffer such severe fear and anxiety that other types of therapy cannot even be started because the patient is too afraid. Medications will be used to dull the phobic response to animals so that the patient and therapist can work together in sessions and develop a plan for the patient to work on at home to bring the fear under control.
While the thought of being mortally terrified of something like a cuddly bunny or a friendly pony might seem bizarre to people who love animals, zoophobia is a very serious condition. Friends and family members who are afraid of animals should be treated with compassion and support and urged to get psychological help, rather than being dismisseded or made fun of, as this can add to emotional distress and make the phobia worse.