Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Zoophobia is one of the more common types of phobias and refers to the fear of animals. Zoophobia can cause people to feel intense fear and anxiety and may even disrupt daily, social, and professional functioning. Treatment for zoophobia can include therapy, medication, and self-care techniques.


What is zoophobia?

Zoophobia is the fear of animals. Zoophobia can cause extreme and irrational fear when thinking of, talking about, or encountering an animal. It typically begins in childhood and may be caused by a traumatic event involving an animal [1].

Zoophobia is a specific phobia, which is an anxiety disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Phobias are characterized by extreme anxiety when faced with a specific stimulus that can cause impairments in daily, professional, or social functioning [2].

While some people may hold a rational and proportionate fear of potentially deadly animals, zoophobia refers to an irrational and disproportionate fear of any, or one type, animal [2][3].

Common types of zoophobia

Zoophobia can refer to the fear of all animals or the fear of a specific animal or creature. Some types of zoophobia that are common around the world include:

  • Fear of birds: Ornithophobia
  • Fear of cats: Ailurophobia
  • Fear of dogs: Cynophobia
  • Fear of horses: Equinophobia
  • Fear of insects: Entomophobia
  • Fear of mice: Musophobia
  • Fear of reptiles: Herpetophobia
  • Fear of snakes: Ophidiophobia
  • Fear of spiders: Arachnophobia

Symptoms of zoophobia

Symptoms of zoophobia may differ from person to person but will typically include [2][3][4][5]:

  • Feeling an intense and extreme fear when looking at, thinking about, or touching an animal
  • Experiencing anxietyattacks due to this fear, with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, feeling faint, dizziness, impaired concentration, shaking, and breathing difficulties
  • Avoiding places or situations in which there may be a risk of encountering an animal
  • Extreme anxiety when anticipating upcoming situations that may involve animals
  • Fearing animals entering the home
  • Being afraid of an animal causing harm or death, regardless of its size or any potential threat of danger
  • Nightmares about animals
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired functioning at work or school
  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Additional phobias or anxiety symptoms
  • Comorbid mental health conditions and symptoms, such as depression, substance use, or OCD

Causes of zoophobia

Zoophobia typically does not develop due to one single cause. Generally, a combination of risk factors, triggers, and experiences will lead to the development of this phobia.


Studies show that individuals may be around three times more likely to experience a specific phobia if they have a direct relative with a specific phobia. This research also indicates that a family history of anxiety disorders can contribute to the development of a phobia. This suggests that a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders may be present in many people with zoophobia [6][7].


As well as genetic factors, it is likely that an individual growing up with a family member with a specific phobia will learn similar traits and behaviors. As such, environmental factors are likely to contribute to zoophobia alongside genetic factors [8][9].

For example, a child whose mother is very afraid of spiders may witness and learn this fear through repeated exposure to their mother’s reactions to spiders, while also inheriting a genetic predisposition to arachnophobia.

Traumatic experiences

In many cases, individuals with a specific phobia have been exposed to a traumatic experience in childhood. The traumatic experience then contributes to fear and anxiety regularly occurring in response to a specific stimulus, thus forming a phobia [4][9].

For example, an adult with cynophobia may have been bitten by a dog as a child. The fear experienced in this situation then creates a trauma response and a fear that persists into adulthood.

Diagnosing zoophobia

Many people with a specific phobia do not seek professional help, instead choosing to live with their fear and avoid situations that trigger it [10]. For some, this can be an effective way to manage the condition. However, for others, zoophobia may cause impairments in functioning and a reduced quality of life. In these cases, it is important to seek professional diagnosis and treatment.

A doctor or clinician can diagnose zoophobia by asking questions about the presenting symptoms and comparing these answers to the diagnostic criteria listed in the DSM-5 for a specific phobia. For example, meeting the following criteria will likely result in a diagnosis of zoophobia or a specific animal phobia [2]:

  • Experiencing extreme fear and anxiety due to a specific animal or any animals
  • The fear of animals is disproportionate to any potential harm
  • Regular avoidance of situations due to the fear of animals
  • The fear of animals is causing or contributing to impairments in social or professional functioning
  • Symptoms that have persisted for at least six months and are not due to any other condition

Zoophobia treatment

Treatment for zoophobia may vary depending on the individual, the contributing causes of their condition, and their response to therapeutic and medicinal treatments.


Exposure therapy:

Generally, specific phobias are treated with a therapeutic approach known as exposure therapy or systematic desensitization. This involves gradually increasing the individual’s exposure to their fear over a period of weeks, with the aim that their distress decreases with each exposure [1][10].

For zoophobia, this may involve an individual first looking at pictures of an animal, then being in the same room as an animal, then touching the animal briefly, and finally, picking up or holding the animal.

Throughout this process, the individual reports their levels of distress to the therapist and discusses any thoughts and emotions that occur. These thoughts may be discussed and challenged, alongside relaxation exercises. Eventually, the individual will be desensitized and will experience little or no distress when faced with the previously feared animal [4].

This approach has been found to be very effective for many people with animal phobias. However, some people may struggle to begin or continue this type of therapy and therefore discontinue their treatment before it is completed [10].

Cognitive therapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help individuals recognize the thought processes that occurs when faced with their fear. The individual can learn to identify and challenge negative thoughts and behavior patterns associated with their phobia and develop positive coping strategies and distress tolerance [4].

For example, someone with cynophobia may believe that they will be bitten by a dog whenever they see one. The therapist can help the individual recognize this as a maladaptive trauma response and begin to challenge the reality of this belief.

Other types of therapy

Other types of therapy, such as trauma-focused therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and family therapy, may also be beneficial treatments for individuals with zoophobia. These approaches can help with processing and overcoming traumatic experiences, learning coping strategies and distress tolerance, and exploring beliefs and anxieties associated with their phobia [8].


Some people may benefit from medication to help manage the symptoms of zoophobia. Evidence for the use of medications in the treatment of specific phobias is limited and their effectiveness may vary depending on the individual and the severity of their condition.

Medications that could help to improve symptoms of zoophobia can include [1][4][8]:

  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants are often prescribed to help individuals with anxiety disorders and co-existing depressive They are generally considered to be safe and effective for this use, so can be used long-term to help manage anxiety symptoms associated with zoophobia. Commonly prescribed antidepressants include SSRIs such as citalopram and sertraline and SNRIs such as duloxetine and venlafaxine.
  • Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers, such as propranolol, are sometimes prescribed off-label to manage acute symptoms of anxiety. This can be beneficial for individuals with zoophobia who require treatment for panic attacks or acute anxiety symptoms, particularly if these symptoms affect professional functioning.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are fast-acting and can be an effective treatment for acute anxiety symptoms. However, due to the potential for abuse, misuse, and dependence, they should not be used long-term and must be used with caution.


People living with zoophobia or other animal phobias may find that certain self-care techniques help to manage and reduce their symptoms. This could include [1][4]:

  • Forming and maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Positive lifestyle changes can contribute to improvements in mental and physical well-being and reduce anxiety symptoms. This could include eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, reducing or avoiding caffeine, and alcohol intake, and adhering to a sleep schedule.
  • Relaxation exercises: Utilizing relaxation and breathing exercises can help to reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety. It can be helpful to practice these techniques while not experiencing high levels of anxiety, as this can make it easier to implement them during high-stress or high-anxiety situations.
  • Talking to friends and family: Having a good support network can help to reduce anxiety symptoms and provide opportunities to share concerns.
  • Attending support groups: Support groups can provide a space to discuss challenging experiences, learn from others with similar experiences, and reduce social isolation.

How common is zoophobia?

Various studies show that the lifetime prevalence of specific phobias is between 3% and 26.5% of the population [7][11][12]. Females are found to be more likely to experience one or more specific phobias than males and with greater severity [12].

The exact prevalence of zoophobia or specific animal phobias is unclear. However, some studies report that a fear of animals occurs in between 3-12% of the population. Additionally, the intensity of zoophobia is generally found to be more severe in younger individuals [7][12].

  1. Barnhill, J.W., (Revised 2023). Specific Phobias. MSD Manuals. Retrieved from https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/anxiety-and-stressor-related-disorders/specific-phobias
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5thedition. Arlington, VA: APA
  3. Polák, J., Sedláčková, K., Landová, E., & Frynta, D. (2020). Faster Detection of Snake and Spider Phobia: Revisited. Heliyon, 6(5), e03968. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e03968
  4. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2022). Phobias. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/phobias
  5. Anxiety UK. (2023). Zoophobia. Anxiety UK. Retrieved from https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/zoophobia/
  6. Villafuerte, S., & Burmeister, M. (2003). Untangling Genetic Networks of Panic, Phobia, Fear and Anxiety. Genome Biology, 4(8), 224. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1186/gb-2003-4-8-224
  7. Eaton, W.W., Bienvenu, O.J., & Miloyan, B. (2018). Specific Phobias. The Lancet. Psychiatry, 5(8), 678–686. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30169-X
  8. Samra, C.K., & Abdijadid, S. (2022). Specific Phobia. In StatPearls [Internet].Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499923/
  9. Garcia, R. (2017). Neurobiology of Fear and Specific Phobias. Learning & Memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 24(9), 462–471. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.044115.116
  10. Hemyari, C., Dolatshahi, B., Sahraian, A., Koohi-Hosseinabadi, O., & Zomorodian, K. (2020). Evaluation of the Effectiveness of One- and Multi-Session Exposure-Based Treatments in Reducing Biological and Psychological Responses to Rat Phobia Among Students. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 13, 665–679. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S256781
  11. National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d). Specific Phobia Statistics. NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia
  12. Fredrikson, M., Annas, P., Fischer, H., & Wik, G. (1996). Gender and Age Differences in the Prevalence of Specific Fears and Phobias. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 34(1), 33–39. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/0005-7967(95)00048-3
Medical Content

Our Medical Affairs Team is a dedicated group of medical professionals with diverse and extensive clinical experience who actively contribute to the development of our content, products, and services. They meticulously evaluate and review all medical content before publication to ensure it is medically accurate and aligned with current discussions and research developments in mental health. For more information, visit our Editorial Policy.

About MentalHealth.com

MentalHealth.com is a health technology company guiding people towards self-understanding and connection. The platform offers reliable resources, accessible services, and nurturing communities. Its mission involves educating, supporting, and empowering people in their pursuit of well-being.

Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Oct 25th 2023, Last edited: Oct 27th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Oct 25th 2023