Cynophobia (Fear of Dogs)
Cynophobia is the overwhelming fear of dogs. People with this anxiety disorder feel intense fear and anxiety when they think about, see or encounter a dog. In severe cases, this phobia can cause people to avoid places where dogs might be. Exposure therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help people manage cynophobia.
- Cynophobia comes from the Greek words that mean “dog” (cyno) and “fear” (phobia). A person who has cynophobia experiences a fear of dogs that’s both irrational and persistent. It’s more than just feeling uncomfortable with barking or being around dogs. Instead, this fear may interfere with daily life and trigger a number of symptoms, like trouble breathing or dizziness.
- Specific phobias, like cynophobia, affect some 7 to 9 percent of the population. They are common enough that they are formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Cynophobia falls under the “animal” specifier. Around a third of people who seek treatment for specific phobias have an irrational fear of either dogs or cats.
What is cynophobia?
Cynophobia is an extreme fear of dogs. The name of this phobia comes from “cyno,” the Greek word for dog. Children and adults with this disorder go out of their way to avoid dogs. They may have severe anxiety or a full panic attack when hearing a dog bark. Watching a movie about a dog or going to a place where a dog might be.
In severe cases, people with this disorder avoid friends or stay indoors because they worry about meeting a dog. Several types of therapy can help people with this phobia.
What is a phobia?
Phobias are anxiety disorders that cause people to be afraid of a situation or object that is usually harmless. They involve excessive fear of an event or situation that won’t necessarily cause harm in reality. And they tend to have unexpected reactions to things other people don’t find scary or worrisome.
Is cynophobia a mental disorder?
Specific phobias, like cynophobia, affect some 7 to 9 percent of the population. They are common enough that they are formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Cynophobia falls under the “animal” specifier.
Cynophobia is a specific phobia disorder. People with specific phobia disorders have extreme reactions to a certain object or situation. They do whatever they can to avoid the thing that causes discomfort, concern or fear in this case, dogs.
How common is cynophobia?
Healthcare providers aren’t sure how many people have this particular phobia. Some studies show that intense fear of animals is one of the most common types of specific phobias. And about 1 in every 3 people with a phobia of animals has an overwhelming fear of dogs.
Around 9% of adults in the U.S. have a specific phobia disorder. People of all genders can get specific phobia disorders, but women are more likely to get them.
What is the dog biggest fear?
Many dogs have sound phobias to loud noises like fireworks, thunderstorms, gunshots, and firecrackers. There is even research that suggests noise phobias can be inherited. Herding breeds are particularly sensitive to noise phobias, perhaps because they are so attuned to their environment.
How do you know if you have cynophobia?
- Signs of cynophobia include:
- Crying, screaming, panic and other intense emotions.
- Difficulty swallowing or feeling like you’re choking.
- Dizziness, dry mouth and headaches.
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
- Feelings of dread and/or catastrophic thoughts (feeling like something terrible will happen).
Researchers estimate there are more than 62,400,000 dogs living in the United States. So your chances of running into a dog are relatively high. With cynophobia, you may experience symptoms out when you are around dogs or even when you are just thinking about dogs.
Symptoms and causes
Symptoms associated with specific phobias are highly individual. No two people may experience the fear or certain triggers in the same way. Your symptoms may be physical, emotional, or both.
Physical symptoms include:
- Trouble breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Pain or tightness in your chest
- Shaking or trembling
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Upset stomach
- Hot or cold flashes
Emotional symptoms include:
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Intense need to escape situations that trigger fear
- Detached feeling from self
- Loss of control
- Feeling you may pass out or die
- Feeling powerless over your fear
Children have specific symptoms as well. When exposed to the thing the child fears they may:
- Have a tantrum
- Cling to their caregiver
For example, a child may refuse to leave a caregiver’s side when a dog is around.
Who is at risk of cynophobia?
This disorder commonly affects children, but people of all ages can develop cynophobia. Cynophobia is widespread among people with autism and sensory or intellectual differences. You are more likely to have cynophobia if you have:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
- A history of mental illness,
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD),
- Panic attacks or panic disorder.
- Other phobias or a history of phobias in your family.
- Substance abuse disorder.
People who have had a scary encounter with a dog are also more likely to develop this phobia. Even if the dog didn’t actually bite you. Being chased or threatened can cause cynophobia. The terrifying memories can return whenever you think about or see a dog. This phobia can develop as part of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What causes cynophobia?
Providers think that phobias result from a mix of genetics, personal history and environmental factors. People who have anxiety disorders or mental illnesses are more likely to develop a phobia. They may be more vulnerable to developing cynophobia if they have a scary experience with a dog or another animal.
Further Causes of Cynophobia
Specific phobias often appear in childhood. However, adults can develop them as well. No one knows exactly what makes someone develop a specific phobia. Potential causes include:
- Traumatic experiences: For example, someone may develop a fear of dogs after being attacked by one.
- Family tendencies: Either genetics or environment can play a role in the development of phobias. If someone in your family has a phobia, you are more likely to develop it as well.
- Changes in brain function: Some people appear to develop phobias as a result of neurological disorders or physical trauma.
What are the triggers of cynophobia?
People with this disorder don’t necessarily need to come into contact with a dog to have severe anxiety. Triggers of cynophobia include:
- Seeing a dog, even if the dog is on a leash or in an enclosure
- Hearing a dog bark or growl
- Seeing a picture or watching a movie containing a dog
- Thinking about a dog or thinking about going some place where a dog might be present.
What are the features of cynophobic patient?
People with this phobia experience extreme anxiety, fear and panic attacks when they think about or see a dog. They feel as if they are in danger. Signs of cynophobia include:
- Crying, screaming, panic and other intense emotions
- Difficulty swallowing or feeling like you’re choking
- Dizziness, dry mouth and headaches
- Excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis)
- Feelings of dread and/or catastrophic thoughts (feeling like something terrible will happen)
- Increased heart rate, chest pain or heart palpitations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea) or fast breathing
Diagnosis and tests
How do healthcare providers diagnose cynophobia?
Your provider will ask about your symptoms and ask when they occur. They will also ask about your history and your family history of phobias. They will want to know about any scary experiences you have had with dogs or other animals. Tell your provider when your symptoms began and if they affect your sleep and daily activities.
Your provider may refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in phobias. This type of expert is specially trained to diagnose phobias and other anxiety disorders.
Management and treatment
How do providers treat cynophobia?
The primary treatments for cynophobia are therapy and medication. There are several types of therapy that can help people with an overwhelming fear of dogs. These include:
Your provider gradually exposes you to dogs. Some providers offer virtual reality therapy using special goggles that mimic interacting with a real dog. Over time, your sensitivity to dogs decreases and you become less fearful. This therapy may include:
- Closing your eyes and imagining an encounter with a dog.
- Seeing pictures or videos of dogs
- Holding a toy dog
- Watching dogs play from a distance and slowly getting closer to the dog.
- Petting a dog while it’s on a leash
- Spending time with a dog off a leash.
This is also called desensitization. In simple terms, persons undergoing exposure therapy practice interacting with the objects that they fear.
- To treat cynophobia, some therapists suggest that you gradually increase both the closeness and length of your exposure. You could start by watching programs that feature dogs or watching dogs from a distance. Then, you work up to spending periods of time with dogs in person.
- Another form of exposure therapy with some proven success is called active-imaginal exposure. In this style of treatment, you would vividly imagine interacting with dogs and practice using certain techniques to manage your feelings in response.
Virtual reality exposure
More recently, many therapists have had success with virtual reality exposure. Both sound and sight elements are combined in a virtual reality experience. This gives the person practice being around dogs in a safe and controlled environment.
Your provider may also recommend:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to change the way you respond to fear and think about dogs in a different way.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to help you understand your fears.
Hypnotherapy which includes guided relaxation exercises while your mind is in a calm state. This allows you to rethink your fear of dogs and the anxiety it causes.
Mindfulness exercises, yoga, breathing exercises and meditation to help you control anxiety.
- Medications to treat depression, relieve anxiety or control panic attacks.
- The impact of drugs on specific phobias has been inconsistent. They appear to work best when used with exposure therapy instead of on their own. However, some anti-anxiety medications such as beta-blockers and sedatives can help you treat the physical symptoms of severe attacks.
- More recently, researchers have discovered that a steroid called glucocorticoid can successfully decrease the physical symptoms associated with the anxiety connected to specific phobias. This includes the fear of dogs.
Several forms of therapy have helped people with cynophobia. Consult your doctor or a licensed mental health professional to find the right treatment or combination of treatments.
What are the complications of cynophobia?
Without treatment, severe cynophobia can cause people to avoid situations where they may encounter dogs. They might stay away from family and friends or stop going for walks outside. They may even develop agoraphobia and stop leaving their home altogether. This can damage relationships and lead to problems holding down a job. Isolation, anxiety and depression can result.
Outlook / prognosis
What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have cynophobia?
Most people with a phobia of dogs get better with therapy. But the outlook depends on the severity of the phobia and the person’s overall mental health. Some people need long-term therapy for the condition to improve. You may also need several therapies, like CBT combined with exposure therapy.
When should you see your healthcare provider about cynophobia?
- Talk to your provider if you or your child has severe signs of cynophobia. If anxiety or panic attacks are getting in the way of your daily life, see your provider right away.
- Many kids are afraid of dogs when they are young. It’s common to be afraid and grow out of it. But you should call your child’s provider if their fear is severe.
What questions should you ask your doctor?
To gain a better understanding of cynophobia and your treatment options, ask your provider:
- What is the cause of cynophobia?
- How do you stop cynophobia?
- What type of therapy or treatment is right for me?
- What experience do you have with exposure therapy and CBT?
- What relaxation techniques can I do on my own to control my anxiety around dogs?
If you or your child is going out of your way to avoid dogs, or if anxiety and panic attacks are causing you distress, talk to your provider. When cynophobia is severe, it can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Therapy can help you learn to control your response to fear and think about dogs in a different way. Relaxation techniques and meditation are beneficial to people with cynophobia. Be sure to tell your provider if you have other phobias or a history of mental illness in your family.