Animal and bird phobias are quite common. People may be afraid of dogs, cats, mice, or rats. Someone may be afraid of birds in general, although fear of pigeons is also common. A phobia is an intense and irrational fear. Most people would be afraid of a growling dog standing in their path, however, it may be irrational or unreasonable to be afraid of your neighbor’s dog, especially if the dog is friendly and has never really provided a reason for you to be afraid. Phobias interfere with people’s daily life or functioning and most people suffering from phobias understand their fears are unreasonable but are not able to overcome their fear.
As with other specific phobias, symptoms of an animal or bird phobia include:
- Muscle tension
- Rapid heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble concentrating
Sometimes a person with a specific animal phobia can pinpoint how the phobia began. They may have been bitten by a dog as a child or had a bad experience with the type of animal causing their anxiety. For some, there may not have been a specific event. Possibly, their parents had a phobia about dogs, passing on this fear to their child by their actions whenever a dog was around, essentially, teaching their children to be afraid. For other people, there may not be any specific reason for their fear.
Avoiding a situation (or specific animal) can contribute to the anxiety, as these actions help to reinforce a fear. For example, is someone was bitten by a dog and begins to avoid situations where there may be a dog present, they reinforce, in their mind, the validity of the fear. This helps to fuel the feelings of anxiety.
In treatment, however, the reason for the fear is not always important. Treatment would be the same no matter what the reason behind the phobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy includes exposure therapy. In this type of treatment, the patient is slowly exposed to animal causing the fear until they are able to be near the animal without experiencing symptoms of anxiety.
Exposure therapy may include the following (example is based on a fear of dogs, but this same type of therapy can be used for any type of animal or bird). Each step would be repeated until the person felt comfortable: