2001-Tue Jan 24 10:20:16 MST 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Dena Roche is afraid of barking dogs. She knows her fear is irrational, but the sound, even in the distance, sends her into a full-blown panic attack.
For pet lovers, it’s hard to imagine anyone having such a severe reaction to a dog or cat, but it happens. It’s called a
specific phobia, and the condition is much more common than many people realize.
According to the
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), approximately 19 million Americans suffer from a specific phobia, which is an “excessive and unreasonable fear in the presence of a specific object, place or situation.” Fear of particular animals like dogs or cats is one of the most common specific phobias.
People with a dog or cat phobia describe feeling extreme anxiety when they're near the animal or even thinking about the possibility of encountering the animal. Symptoms include feelings of panic, dread and terror, a racing heart, shortness of breath, trembling and an overwhelming urge to flee. People with phobias not only fear a dog or cat
harming them, but are equally afraid of the panic response that accompanies an encounter.
People suffering from cat or dog phobias are hypersensitive to things other people wouldn’t even notice. “They’ll become attuned to the potential jingling of a
dog collar that most people would ignore,” says Dr. Simon Rego, director of the
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) Training Program at
Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
“People distort phobic stimuli,” Dr. Rego explains. “They might see a
cat as a saber tooth tiger with lion-sized paws, for example. And cats are so aloof and independent that they seem unpredictable. Unpredictability is very scary for phobics,” he says. “I also hear that cats have ‘evil eyes’ a lot.”
“It’s amazing how generalized or specialized a fear can become,” adds Dr. Rego. In Roche’s case, dogs themselves don’t cause a reaction but the barking does. Roche explains that if she’s in a place she can leave, her reaction isn’t as bad. But if she’s at home and hears a barking dog nearby, she has to go inside and stay there. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where she won’t use her own backyard because she’s afraid a dog will bark somewhere in the neighborhood.
Most phobias begin in childhood or adolescence, says Dr. Mike Vasey, Ph.D., a professor in the
Ohio State University’s Department of Psychology. There are several scenarios that might be the impetus to a phobia. A direct experience or traumatic event, such as a
dog bite or even an overly friendly
dog jumping up on an unprepared child might lead to a phobia. Sometimes children take cues from their parents. If a mother is afraid of dogs, her son might model his fear on hers. Finally, Dr. Vasey says, sometimes all it takes to trigger a phobia is for a trusted adult to tell a child that dogs or cats are dangerous.
Are certain people predisposed to developing phobias? Yes, says Dr. Rego, because there are genetic and biological influences that make someone more likely to develop a phobia. “It’s like a light switch,” he explains. “Some may never develop a phobia but could if the right circumstances were presented.”
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Want to choose the best food for your
pet? Here's why you shouldn't fear
preservatives or fall for marketing…
Electronic cigarettes may be growing in
popularity, but their higher concentrations
of nicotine can poison cats and…
Are you handling your pet the right way?
Our vet shares five things your pup wishes
you knew about picking him up.
We combed through 505,270 kitten
names to determine the hottest male
and female monikers of the year.
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
The laid-back American Wirehair’s crimped, coarse coat requires almost no brushing or combing.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.