Phobia of the Rats (Musophobia): Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The Phobia of rats Or musophobia is excessive fear, aversion and rejection to rats or mice. Traditionally they are linked with dirt, rot, and serious diseases.

People who have a phobia of rats experience terror and repulsion at the actual or imagined presence of rats. In addition, their fear is disproportionate and irrational regarding the real danger that these animals pose.

Vertical shot of a young woman attacked by rats isolated on whit

Someone with a severe phobia of rats can avoid certain environments, and even stop doing the activities they used to do before. In this way his phobia ends up affecting his day to day life, giving rise to problems in the labor, social and personal spheres.

It can also be called musophobia or sufhobia (from the French"souris", translated as"mouse"), in case the intense fear appears before the mice.

In contrast, if the fear is to mice and rats indistinctly one uses"muridophobia"or"wallophobia". This term is derived from the subfamily" Murinae "Which covers some 519 species of rodents.

How is phobia diagnosed in rats?

Under normal conditions, it is not uncommon for most people to regard rats as unpleasant. However, the phobia is a more intense and exaggerated fear response than normal.

To diagnose it, DSM-V specific phobia criteria are often used. The following are adapted to the case of the rats:

A- Fear or intense anxiety about a specific object or situation (in this case, the rats). In children, it is observed through crying, tantrums, paralyzing or clinging to someone.

B- These animals always or almost always cause fear or anxiety immediately.

C- The phobic object is avoided or there is an active resistance to face it, accompanied by intense anxiety or fear.

D- Fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the real danger posed by rats, as well as their sociocultural context. In most cultures rats are poorly seen, so anxiety should be very high (compared to the normal negative reaction) to be considered pathological.

- This fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent, and its duration should be six months or more.

E fear, anxiety or avoidance causes clinically significant discomfort or social, occupational or other deterioration in the functioning of the individual.

F- This alteration is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as those due to agoraphobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety...

Prevalence of phobia in rats

There is little data on the exact prevalence of phobia in rats.

What is known is that the age of onset of phobias to animals in general is usually between 7 and 9 years, although some authors make distinctions between the onset of fear and phobia. Usually, about 9 years pass between the onset of fear and that of phobia (Bados, 2009).

According to Stinson et al. (2007), the overall prevalence of phobia in animals was 4.7%. In addition, it appears to be more frequent in women, making up 75 to 90% of phobics in animals.

Causes of phobia in rats

Phobias are learned, although their origin seems to lie in the basic fears of the phylogenetic evolution of humans.

There are stimuli that tend to trigger phobias more easily than others, such as rats. This is explained by the theory of biological preparation, which argues that it is more likely to develop fear of stimuli that have phylogenetically represented a threat to the survival of species. Either by attacks or by contagion of diseases, causing the phobic both fear and disgust (Bados, 2009).

To this we add the sociocultural variables that have great weight in the case of the rats. This is because rats often raise a rational concern about food contamination and disease transmission. So it is normal that practically all times, places and cultures there is a widespread rejection of them.

These general beliefs are transmitted to the new generations in many different ways. Even in books, movies and cartoons (cartoons) they are expressed to other people frightened or disgusted by rats.

Mostly they are usually women, although this condition is present in both sexes. Perhaps this motive, together with many others, makes it easier for women to have this phobia more often than men. Since they have learned through various means, that a woman"should"be frightened by the appearance of a rat, and not face it.

The phobia of rats can be caused by a first startle response (or"fright") to the unexpected appearance of the animal. If this experience is linked directly or indirectly to negative or disagreeable aspects, it is possible that the fear is established and little by little grow into a phobia.

Thus, a phenomenon known as" classical conditioning "In which the person is afraid of the rat by creating an association between the rat and a negative event that he experienced at the same time (finding the animal eating his food, inside his bed or having hurt or scared him).

This was proven in the famous Psychological experiment from John Watson , The father of Behaviorism . He wanted to know if the fears were innate or learned, and to check he selected an eight-month-old baby known as"Little Albert".

He presented a rat before him, without any reaction of fear. Then, they combined the presentation of the rat with a loud noise that frightened Albert. After few repetitions, the baby panicked at the sight of the rat.

On the other hand, you can learn the fear of rats through observation. For example, watch your parents terrified at the presence of a rat or watch it in a movie.

Another way to acquire this phobia is through the transmission of threatening information, such as anecdotes, stories, or warnings from parents about the dangers of rats.

As we see, the causes of a phobia are very extensive, varied and complex. They interact with each other and are joined with other variables such as the personality of the individual, temperament, sensitivity to stress, susceptibility to disgust, social support, expectations, etc.

Symptoms of phobia in rats

Symptoms may vary depending on the level of fear the phobic person has. The most characteristic set of symptoms of rat phobia is as follows:

- Strong fear or anxiety about the actual or imagined appearance of the rat. Fear is accompanied by a sense of disgust or repugnance, although fear seems to predominate.

- Heavy fear, rejection and disgust at the sounds emitted by a rat, its tactile properties and physical appearance.

- Physiological reactions: in the presence of a rat, is activated in the phobic Sympathetic nervous system Which results in accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, tremors, rapid and shallow breathing, sweating, etc.

It is also accompanied by parasympathetic activation, which causes typical symptoms of disgust such as reduced skin temperature, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, or gastrointestinal discomfort.

In more serious cases, these reactions appear, albeit somewhat milder, to the imagination of the rat, or the visualization of a video or a photo where it appears.

- Cognitive reactions are usually negative thoughts of anticipation. They are usually very fast and the person is hardly aware of them. Usually phobics imagine unreasonably feared situations, such as the movement or rapprochement of the rat, it creeping through its body, biting it, etc.

It is possible that in the cognitive plane the subject also subjects to other situations associated or referring to his exaggerated fear, like fear to lose the control, to make the ridiculous, to be hurt, to suffer a heart attack, to faint, or to have a crisis of panic .

At the same time, other thoughts appear, such as finding ways to escape or avoid imagined phobic situations. This results in behavioral reactions.

- Behavioral reactions: these are security-seeking or defensive behaviors that aim to prevent or reduce the alleged threats and reduce anxiety.

Some examples would be to escape, to stand near the door to flee faster, to avoid passing near sewers or animal shops, to spend as little time as possible a place where in the past they have seen a rat, ask other relatives to throw the garbage Not to approach the containers, etc.

Generalization of phobia

Usually all phobias experience a phenomenon called"generalization." This means that the responses of terror and anxiety begin to appear also to stimuli similar to the phobic. In that way, the fears are extended to situations and stimuli that did not previously provoke it.

For example, a person may only be afraid of having a rat near you. Later on, you may feel anxious just by seeing a photo or imagining its presence. It is even common for symptoms to appear before other, similar rodents over time.

In the famous little Albert experiment mentioned above, we also observed the phenomenon of generalization. Once learned the fear of the rats, began to show the same behaviors of fear before the presentation of a rabbit, a dog and a fur coat.

Our learning mechanism allows us to relate elements similar to the dreaded one, with the aim of reacting to them and maintaining our integrity and survival. Although in this case, it is not adaptive and increasingly increases the fear of rats.

It is also known that, avoid places where there may be rats, flee from them, or not see videos or photos where they appear; Are considered behaviors that magnify the fear and that increase the process of generalization of the phobia. As will be explained later, the best way to treat rabies phobia is through exposure.

Treatment of phobia in rats

Unlike other phobias, such as claustrophobia wave Phobia of blood Or wounds, treatment for the phobia of rats is not usually sought. The reason is that this phobia does not normally prevent a normal life, especially if the phobic moves around places where it rarely coincides with rats.

More often than not, those people who are"forced"to stay in an environment where these creatures may appear with a little more frequency are called for. For example, in hot cities, or in places where there is garbage or food.

On the other hand, if the individual spends a lot of time exposed to rats, such as working in a pet store, they usually do not develop the phobia or, if there is an initial fear, be suppressed.

However, it is important that phobias be treated because otherwise, they may become more generalized or become stronger.

The best way to Overcome phobia To rats is through exposure, mainly live. Although imagined exposure, virtual reality or a combination of these can also be done.

In the first place, the phobic person must elaborate, with the help of the psychologist, a list ordering from less to greater fear all the phobic situations he fears.

This hierarchical list should be personalized and be as detailed as possible. For example, you can go from"watching a video about rats"to"finding a rat inside my food pantry"depending on the specific fears each person has.

Once these fearful situations are identified, they will try to provoke themselves, but in a safe context, with less intensity and the patient being as relaxed as possible.

The goal is that the extinction of the conditioned responses of anxiety occurs, when the phobic stimulus (the rat) occurs repeatedly without the aversive or unpleasant consequences.

Thus, the person can be relaxed to see first images of pups of adorable mice, passing videos where the rat is seen in detail and far, then see a rat inside a cage, etc.

The secret is to go slowly increasing the difficulty until the fear is disappearing. A phenomenon called habituation, which consists of"getting accustomed"to the phobic stimulus through exposure to it, is reducing the physiological and emotional activation to these stimuli.

Normally exposure can be complemented by Relaxation techniques , Especially in people who have very high levels of anxiety.

In the case where phobics are reluctant to live exposure, imagery exposure, which is a little less effective, may be used, or virtual reality .

In the first, after a relaxation session, the patient must strive to imagine with total clarity and detail the feared situations that the psychologist is going to report. Like live exposure, this is also done as a hierarchy.

As for virtual reality, it is a relatively recent method that is giving very good results for phobias. It is possible to customize the program to fit the phobias to the rats, and it is more attractive than another type of exposure for the majority of the patients.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V).
  2. Bados, A. (2005). Specific Phobias . Barcelona. University of Barcelona. Recovered on November 16, 2016.
  3. Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Psychological medicine, 37 (07), 1047-1059.
  4. Fear of mice . (S.f.). Retrieved on November 16, 2016, from Wikipedia.
  5. Musophobia . (S.f.). Retrieved on November 16, 2016, from
  6. Stinson, F. S., Dawson, D.A., Chou, S.P., Smith, S., Goldstein, R.B., Ruan, W.J., & Grant, B.F. (2007). The epidemiology of DSM-IV specific phobia in the USA: results from the National
  7. What is Muriphobia? (S.f.). Retrieved on November 16, 2016, from Common Phobias.
  8. You Can Stop Your Fear Of Rats . (S.f.). Recovered on November 16, 2016, from Just Be Well.

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