Fear and Phobia

Fear and Phobia in Pets

Thunderstorms, fireworks, cars, noises, doctors… Dogs and cats can be afraid of certain situations, just like humans. But, how much is normal? And when do fears and phobias become pathological conditions?

First, there is a difference between fears and phobias. Fear is a negative emotional reaction when confronted with danger, and phobia is an excessive and persistent reaction of fear to a specific stimulus. Also, fear is seen as an adaptive reaction because it can prevent dangerous situations. Phobia, on the other hand, is pathological because it prevents the ability to function normally.

When we are afraid signs of stress appear. Familiarizing yourself with signs of stress in cats and dogs will help you to recognize them in your pet. This way you can help them quickly. Prompt response means a better chance at success!


  • Try to change the emotional state of your pet and/or defuse the situation as soon as you notice signs of stress.
  • If it is not possible to adopt desensitization and counter-conditioning exercises, try to eliminate their exposure to stimuli that trigger the reaction.
  • Avoid punishment as it will only make things worse.
  • Contact your veterinarian to discuss if desensitization and counter-conditioning exercises alone are a good option or if a medication is also needed.


Desensitization is the gradual exposure to a stimulus at a level that doesn’t cause an adverse reaction in an animal.

Counter conditioning is the shift from negative emotional reactions toward positive emotional reactions in presence of a stimulus.

Combining both techniques could look like this:

For example, I’m afraid of spiders. Instead of having direct contact with a big spider, which would lead to screaming, a racing heartbeat, and distress, so I proceed gradually. Someone will point at a tiny spider that I can barely see at the other end of the room and I will get a piece of chocolate. I then have the option to leave the room if I want. We will do the exercise again later bringing the spider just a little closer, or we will use a spider that is a little bigger. Again, giving me chocolate when I succeed. In time, when I see a spider, I will feel good instead of being in distress because I will be looking forward to having chocolate!

When a fear or phobia is overwhelming, it is possible that physiological and psychological reactions are too big to establish a new positive relation. It is often in such situations that we can add pharmacological treatment to enhance conditioning and desensitization. If you think that your animal has such issues, the best person to help is your veterinarian and his team. Don’t hesitate to contact them because they will have tools to help you.

Have more questions?

Please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.