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Cynophobia (Fear of Dogs) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last Updated: Dec 26, 2020

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You might have seen people who fear spiders, lizards or cockroaches, but there are a few who fear man’s best friend. That’s right, today we’re going to talk about the cynophobia - fear of dogs.

What is Cynophobia?

Cynophobia is derived from the Greek word ‘Cynos’ means dog, and ‘Phobos’ means fear; this is a combination of these two words. Cynophobia means the fear of dogs might be illogical and irrational to you but a few being with dogs is a dreadful experience.

It’s not just a fear of being around dogs when they’re barking or feeling uncomfortable because of a street dog. The people with cynophobia, live rather difficult lives.

Dogs are everywhere now, and when a cynophobic is around the dog, their symptoms trigger, they start feeling dizziness or start taking heavy breaths. Now, you might understand how hard it is to be cynophobic; it interferes with their daily lives and almost kills their social life.

Cynophobia is a type of specific phobia. It is a type of phobia where a person fears an object or activity. Phobias like these affect around 7-9% of people around the world, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) listed down these phobias.

Why are people afraid of dogs?

As such there is no fixed answer to this question. Experiences and fear are extremely subjective. There is not a single cause, the fear from dogs may arise due to a combination of circumstances and its severity may depend on how early it starts.

The dog phobia in children can start as early as age 5 or as late as age 13 and it can last into adulthood if untreated. Fear of dogs in adults has held people as old as 20 years of age and may stay into middle age.

Symptoms of Cynophobia

In countries like India, where there are a bunch of dog lovers in every corner of it, it is more likely to encounter a dog than any other animal here. A person with cynophobia is going to have their symptoms out around dogs. Even thinking about dogs can make them uncomfortable.

Symptoms related to cynophobia may vary from person to person, but here are a few:

  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Crying or screaming

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Loss of control
  • Losing the ability to think straight
  • Panic attack
  • Intense urge to escape from dogs
  • Intense fear

Causes of Cynophobia

It might or may not be possible for you to determine, where exactly you developed cynophobia, but there are a few factors that might be involved. Here we’ve listed a few causes of cynophobia:

  • If one of your parents has cynophobia, there are chances that you might have it too. That’s right; your genetics might be the culprit in a few cases.
  • If you had a traumatic incident involving dogs in the past, like being chased or bitten by one; it becomes one of the contributions to your cynophobia with time.
  • In a few cases, if the person is not exposed to dogs earlier, it becomes a little harder for them to be around them.
  • Sometimes you start fearing dogs based on the information that you receive from the people around you. Your neighbour, who was bitten by a dog, your classmate who was chased by one etc.

Complications Caused by Cynophobia

Dog fear can put you in the position of cutting yourself off more and more from potentially running into the dog and its owner. A person may stop going on hiking, camping or beach since dogs may be there, or you may avoid the homes of friends and family who have dogs.

Even walking down the street, you can encounter a neighbourhood dog. Cynophobia is highly stressful and as a result, it is common for for patients with the disorder to be diagnosed with:

  • Social phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Agoraphobia
  • Depression

Risk Factors for Someone Developing cynophobia

You may or may not be able to hone in on exactly when your fear started or what first caused it. Your fear may come on acutely due to dog attack or develop more gradually over the time. Some situations like genetics, that may put you at higher risk of having cynophobia. The risk factor may include:

  • Age: It can show up in both childrens and adults. Specific phobia may occur at age of 10 and can begin later in life as well.
  • Experience: Some past experience with dogs, may be chased or bitten? The traumatic situation may also put you at risk for developing cynophobia
  • Disposition: You may be at higher risk of developing phobia if you have more sensitive temperament.
  • Information: You may develop cynophobia if you’ve heard negative things about being around dogs.
  • Family: If one of your close one in your family has anxiety or phobia, you may be more likely to develop irrational fears as well.

Diagnosis of Cynophobia

If cynophobia is impacting your daily life, or you’ve recently started experiencing severe symptoms; it is advised to visit a doctor.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM IV), these are the criteria for the diagnosis of specific phobias:

  • Fear or a particular object, person or activity
  • Feeling irrational, unreasonable or excessive fear.
  • Extreme anxiety when exposed to the feared object or activity.
  • Fear interfering with daily lives.
  • There is no other accountable medical reason for the anxiety.
  • Symptoms for more than six months (especially in minors).

Treatment for Cynophobia

It is not necessarily required for you to seek any expert attention unless the phobia is not hampering your daily life. For example: when you start avoiding your neighbour with dogs, skip the park in your way or stop going to walk etc. The treatment might include therapy or therapy combined with a few medications.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven very effective for the treatment of phobias. In CBT, your therapist tries to suppress negative thoughts and try to modify your thinking mechanism.

Exposure therapy: it is also a type of CBT, where the patient is let to face the fears head-on. This therapy is performed in a controlled and safe environment.

In some extreme cases, your doctor might prescribe you a few medications for the symptoms during the trigger. The medications are only to help with the symptoms, they’re never a solution to the problem.

How to Overcome From Fear of Dogs?

If you have had a horrifying encounter with a dog recently, one of the best ways to avoid being cynophobic in future is to interact with a harmless dog as soon as possible. Spend some time with a well-behaved gentle dog for a few times, and you should be ready for the future.

Educate yourself more about dogs, how they’re your best friends and have helped people so many times. It will be comforting to know that it is unlikely that something terrible will happen around a dog.

Cynophobia is not a weakness

Cynophobia is not weakness, nor is it unreasonable to respect people’s boundaries when they make them plain. The dog need not be large or even aggressive to inspire fear in people who suffer from cynophobia, nor does actual suffering need to be a part of their lives.

The size or temperament of a dog, it's always best to ask houseguests whether they’re fine around dogs, and keep dogs on-leash in public areas to avoid unnecessary incidents.

Additional Information on Cynophobia

According to a report of Statista, the population of pet dogs in India was around 19.5 million in 2018, and it is estimated that it is more likely to go up in the future. The same report suggests that by 2023 there are going to be around 30 million pet dogs in India. These numbers are just representing the number of pet dogs, and we have not even talked about street dogs yet.

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Written ByDrx Hina FirdousPhD (Pharmacology) Pursuing, M.Pharma (Pharmacology), B.Pharma - Certificate in Nutrition and Child CarePharmacology
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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