What Is Cynophobia?

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on February 25, 2024
3 min read

Cynophobia is the fear of dogs. Like all specific phobias, cynophobia is intense, persistent, and irrational. According to a recent diagnostic manual, between 7% and 9% of any community may suffer from a specific phobia.

A phobia goes beyond mild discomfort or situational fear. It is not just fear in response to a particular situation. Instead, specific phobias interfere with daily life and can cause serious physical and emotional distress. You often can manage or treat cynophobia with medication or psychotherapy.

Cynophobia and other phobias related to animals are often diagnosed through the use of questionnaires and clinical interviews. For example, one snake phobia questionnaire presents a set of 12 statements about your reaction to snakes and asks you to agree or disagree with each statement.

In order to diagnose cynophobia, a doctor would evaluate your behavior and emotional responses concerning dogs. Symptoms of phobias may include any of the following:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • A feeling of danger
  • Fear of losing control
  • A fear of dying
  • A sense of things being unreal
  • Excessive avoidance or anxiety

If you regularly have any of these symptoms in relation to dogs, you may want to talk to your doctor or a licensed therapist about it.

At their most serious, specific phobias can lead to other problems. If you start struggling with any of these, contact your doctor for help:

  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety disorders or depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Thoughts of suicide

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.

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.

Exposure therapy. The most common treatment for specific phobias is exposure therapy. 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.

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.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also used to treat specific phobias. It generally includes exposure therapy,  sometimes called exposure response prevention (ERP). In addition, it emphasizes learning to retrain the brain and reframe negative experiences.

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to develop a sense of control over your thoughts and emotions. The therapist aims to help you gain confidence in your ability to handle difficult situations.

Medications. 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.