- Health Library
- PetMD U
A phobia is a persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus, such as a thunderstorm. Immediate, excessive anxiety response is characteristic of a phobic condition, and it has been suggested that once a phobic event has been experienced, any event associated with it, or the memory of it, is sufficient enough to generate a response. The most common phobias are associated with noises (such as thunderstorms or fireworks).
Fear is the instinctual feeling of apprehension resulting from a situation, person, or object that appears to present an external threat -- whether real or perceived. The response of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for the freeze, fight, or flight syndrome. It is considered to be a normal behavior, essential for adaptation and survival; its context determines whether the fear response is normal, or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure.
Anxiety is the anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions (known as physiologic reactions) associated with fear; most common visible behaviors are elimination (urination and/or passage of bowel movements), destruction, and excessive vocalization (barking, crying). Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion animals. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors.
Most fears, phobias, and anxieties develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. A profound form of fear and withdrawal of unknown cause often occurs around eight to ten months of age. Old-age-onset separation anxiety of unknown cause may be a variant of a decline in thinking, learning, and memory in elderly pets.
Your veterinarian will first want to rule out other conditions that might be causing your cat's behavior, such as brain or thyroid disease. The behavior could also be originating from a response to a toxic substance, such as lead, which can cause neurological disorders. Blood tests will rule out or confirm such a possibility.
If your veterinarian diagnoses a simple fear, anxiety, or phobia, a prescribed medication may be all that is needed. But your doctor will most likely make recommendations based on your individual cat, what the fear trigger is, and how you can alleviate your cat's fears and anxieties through behavioral conditioning.
Anything that has been recognized as to be not what would be accepted as normal.
Anything that produces an action or reaction
A real fear of something
The part of the nervous system that contains the nerves that control involuntary movement.