How do Animal Hoarding Habits Develop?

Over the past decade, there have been televisions broadcasts, including more than one TV series, that focused on the lives of hoarders, including people who engage in animal hoarding. Scenes of animal hoarding can be heart-wrenching and even gruesome. Like many people, you may wonder how animal hoarding habits develop in the first instance. While each individual who hoards animals ended up doing so for his or her own unique reasons, there is some commonality among in regard to how individuals develop animal hoarding habits.

What is Animal Hoarding?

Animal hoarding is included under the boarder recognized mental health condition of hoarding disorder. There is some discussion among mental health professionals that animal hoarding should be its own, independently classified mental health disorder. This contention is made because there are some differences between “standard” hoarding and hoarding that involves pets or other animals.

Animal hoarding is defined as a situation in which an individual houses more animals that he or she can provide appropriate care, according to the ASPCA, an organization that monitors animal hoarding in the United States. Animal hoarding is demarcated by a person’s inability to provide even the most basic standards of case for animals in his or her custody or possession. These include an inability to provide basic shelter, nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care.  The inability to provide these minimum standards of care result in animals become ill, starving, and dying. In the grand scheme of things, animal hoarding is a complicated issue that involves considerations of animal welfare, mental health of the hoarder, and public safety.

Research into the Underlying Cause or Causes of Animal Hoarding Behavior

As is oftentimes the case when it comes to the underlying reason a person engages in a certain type of troublesome activity, pinpointing an exact cause or causes of animal hoarding is challenging. The reality is that research into how animal hoarding habits form is really only at the beginning.  A considerable amount of research work needs to be done in this regard and is ongoing at this time.

Considering research to date, there appear to be three root causes for animal hoarding. Keep in mind that these identified root causes are not mutually exclusive. A person might labor under animal hoarding disorder as a result of the effects of more than one of these identified root causes. The three categories of root causes of animal hoarding identified to date are:

  • Certain mental health disorders
  • Traumatic loss or life event
  • Self-professed rescuer

Underlying Mental Health Disorders and Animal Hoarding

Early research into hoarding disorder generally, which included animal hoarding, resulted in a preliminary finding that hoarding was a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. More recent concluded studies, and those that currently are ongoing, have moved away from this determination. As mentioned previously, hoarding no longer is classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive conduct.

Current research has resulted in tentative conclusions that animal hoarding arises from specific types of mental health disorders that include:

  • Attachment disorders (in conjunction with personality disorders)
  • Delusional thinking
  • Paranoia
  • Depression

Other mental health conditions may contribute to the development of animal hoarding behavior as well. With that noted, these are the most common types of mental health disorders that more consistently have been associated with individuals who ultimately engage in animal hoarding.

Traumatic Loss or Traumatic Life Event and Animal Hoarding

The second identified root cause of animal hoarding in many cases is some sort of traumatic loss or traumatic life event. A considerable majority of animal hoarders are women. Of that cohort of animal hoarders, a large number are widows or divorced. In many cases, the onset of behavior that resulted in animal hoarding can be traced to the point in time when a hoarder divorced or was widowed.

Animal Rescue Becomes Animal Hoarding

A notable number of animal hoarding situations trace their roots back to a more noble situation. There are cases in which a person initially takes in an appropriate number of rescue animals and provides suitable care for them. They begin as bona fide animal rescuers.

Ultimately, an individual who provided suitable shelter for a small number of rescue animals believes he or she needs to do more. As a consequence, an animal hoarding situation develops.

A person who develops animal hoarding behavior as a consequence of initially providing a home for rescue animals believes that these animals are better off with him or her than in a shelter setting. As the number of hoarded animals increases, the hoarder becomes less and less capable of providing appropriate care for them. In reality, the situation for these animals is not better with a hoarder than at a suitable shelter.

Signs of Possible Animal Hoarding

In conclusion, not only is understanding how animal hoarding may occur in the first instance, recognizing the signs of this behavior is also important. The common signs of animal hoarding include:

  • A person obviously possesses numerous animals but has no idea how many
  • A residence has deteriorated
  • Strong ammonia odor as the result of animal urine
  • Obvious presence of dried feces, urine, and vomit
  • Animals are not well socialized
  • Animals are lethargic
  • Animals are emaciated
  • Fleas and vermin are present
  • Individual is isolated from the community
  • Individual appears to neglect his or her self
  • Individual insists the animals are doing well even though objective evidence demonstrates this is not the case