Wednesday , December 8 2021

Have you heard of Zoanthropy, the mental disorder that makes people think they are animals?

Research has revealed countless testimonies of patients who thought they were a dog, lion, tiger, hyena, shark, crocodile, frog, bovine, cat, goose, rhinoceros, rabbit, horse, snake, bird, wild boar, gerbil and a bee. Some other patients have changed into wolves. It is a mental disorder in which one believes oneself to be an animal.

I bet you may not have heard about this rare illness. It is called zoanthropy, a mental disorder that makes someone think they are an animal.

An incident recently happened in Belgium which again reminded the world of the existence of this bizarre illness.

Doctors KU Leuven University in Belgium recently reported the bizarre case of a 54-year-old woman who was convinced she was a chicken and temporarily behaved like one.

The married woman, whose name was not revealed, reportedly had a stable job at a pharmacy and had no history of drug or alcohol abuse before the strange episode. One day, her brother stopped by and found her clucking, blowing her cheeks and crowing like a rooster. Not knowing what to do, the woman’s brother took her to a nearby hospital, where the 54-year-old told doctors she thought she was a chicken and described feeling a new sensation in her legs.

The sudden episode of zoanthropy – a mental disorder in which one believes oneself to be an animal – ended when the woman suffered a seizure. She appeared to be her old self again after that and had no recollection of her short time acting like a chicken. The doctors’ report mentions that she was embarrassed when her family told her what had happened and why she was in the hospital.

“Clinical zoanthropy, or the conviction of having turned into an animal, is a rare delusion,” KU Leuven researchers wrote. “There are different views about its pathogenesis. This delusion can occur with an underlying psychiatric disorder, but it can also be secondary to structural or functional disorders of the brain.”

The only probable cause the woman’s case is likely to be depression since it was reported by Oddity Central she had lost a beloved family member. This angle was disputed as it would have also affected her other relatives as well if it was what led her to think she was a chicken.

According to the case study published in the Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie journal, there have been only 56 case descriptions of zoanthropy episodes in medical and historical literature between 1850 and 2012. The limited research on this subject features testimonies of patients who thought they were a dog, lion, tiger, hyena, shark, crocodile, frog, bovine, cat, goose, rhinoceros, rabbit, horse, snake, bird, wild boar, gerbil and a bee.

Symptoms of zoanthropy can reportedly last from one hour to several decades, and cases are more prevalent in rural and non-industrial areas.

When such illnesses manifest, these patients truly believe they have transformed into another species  and begin to act like such.

Types of Zoanthropy

This illness has several types, depending on the animal species a person, in their delusion, chooses to be. Reports say there are up to 56 clinical cases of zoanthropy recorded. However, there were, for sure, many more cases throughout history that didn’t make it to the records. Among the most popular ones, according to myanimals.com are as follows:

Lycanthropy

Lycanthropy is the “magical” ability to become a wolfman (a lycanthrope). That is a werewolf, the half wolf-half man, the legendary creature who’s inspired so many tales. According to local folklore, a man morphs into a werewolf during full moon nights due to a curse.

This sounds like a great work of fiction but it is for real. Throughout history, there are many records of clinical cases. Records of people who truly believed they could transform into this mythical creature. These people didn’t just believe it, but they also manifested as such. For example, they howled, walked on all fours, displayed aggressiveness and even consumed raw meat.

Even though lycanthropy is the most popular, there are many other subcategories of the zoanthropy mental disorder, according to myanmals.com. They are;

Hypanthropy is the mental disorder in which people believe to be a horse and act as such.

Boanthropy. In this one, the people afflicted by this mental disorder believe they are a cow. In fact, the first criticism in regard to smallpox vaccines was about them leading to boanthropy.

There is also Spiritual zoanthropy. This one involves a situation where for instance, children who grew up with wild animals. For example, there’s Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja in Spain, who grew up among wolves. He lived with them for 12 years. There are also situations where dogs, cats, goats and even birds “adopted” human children and cared for them as if they were their own offspring. Several years of therapy helped zoanthropic children adapt to living as humans again. It’s not that they had a psychological disorder, but simply that they had to become members of a different species in order to survive.

Causes of a zoanthropy mental order

There’s very little information about what causes this condition. The little research available lacks accuracy required to ascertain what could be the real cause of this mental disorder. However, everything seems to indicate that the symptoms of zoanthropy have to do with other mental conditions such as schizophrenia, reports myanimals.com.

Two of the best-studied cases of lycanthropy showed alterations in certain regions of the brain. These areas are the ones that process proprioception and sensory perception through diagnostic imaging techniques. (Proprioception is the ability to recognize where our muscles are located and the posture we maintain. These are often altered in those with this condition.)

Finally!

Zoanthropy is a wacky illness no one would even wish an enemy to experience. Though it is said to be very rare the fact remains that it still exits. So when next anyone near you begins to behave like an animal, just add this mental disorder to the list of what you suspect could be wrong with such person.

(with reports from myanimals.com)

About Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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