The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that about 250,000 animals fall victim to hoarding in the United States each year. At the present time, there is an active debate as to whether animal hoarding should be set apart as its own, uniquely classified mental disorder.
The History of Hoarding as a Mental Disorder
Prior to 2013, hoarding generally was considered as a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, in the in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. Ultimately, researchers and experts realized that hoarders engaged in behavior that differed from individuals with OCD.
For example, people with OCD fixate on individual items. On the other hand, hoarders accumulate things and don’t focus on them specifically in most cases. In addition, hoarders do not respond to the same medications that are beneficial to people described with OCD.
As a result, in 2013 hoarding was classified as its own mental disorder in the DSM. Animal hoarding is classified as a subtype of hoarding more generally. At this juncture in time, hoarding is not considered to be a separate mental disorder, but a derivation of hoarding overall.
Debate Over Animal Hoarding as Its Own Mental Disorder
Since 2013, debate and some research has accelerated in regard to the status of animal hoarding a mental disorder that should be independently classified. The primary reason this debate is ongoing arises from the fact that what motivates animal hoarders differs from those hoarders that focus on property or other material and nonliving items.
Because animal hoarding is not classified as its own mental disorder, and is grouped with hoarding more generally, there has been a limit on the amount of actual research done on animal hoarding. As a result, there remains a lack of solid information about animal hoarding, including:
- Neuropsychology of animal hoarding
- Triggers for animal hoarding
- Treatments for animal hoarding
Common Features of Animal Hoarders
Another reason why some experts believe that animal hoarding should be classified as a unique mental disorder arises from the fact that there are some highly common features among animal hoarders. The reality is that overall a fairly narrow segment of the population includes individuals that become animal hoarders. The identifiers of this population segment include:
- 90 percent of all animal hoarders live one
- 73 percent of animal hoarders are women
- 61 is the average age of an animal hoarder
- Although 61 is the average age of an animal hoarder, most have been hoarding an average of 23 years
- A majority of animal hoarders had family relationships which were abandoned as hoarding became a significant issue
In addition to the animals being poorly treated and maintained, so are the animal hoarders themselves. A majority of them do not bath, brush their teeth, or cut their finger or toenails. This lack of personal hygiene occurs because, with all of the animals at the premises, there exists no place for an animal hoarder to undertake these tasks of daily living.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Animal Hoarding
One of the reasons why animal hoarding currently is classified as a subtype of hoarding is because there is some similarity between the signs and symptoms of both conditions. On the other hand, there are experts that maintain that there enough unique and important differences between the signs and symptoms associated with animal hoarding that requires it to be set apart as its own, uniquely classified mental disorder.
These signs and symptoms include:
An animal hoarder has numerous animals and likely does not know the total number of animals in his or her possession
The home of an animal hoarder is deteriorated, including everything from holes in the walls and floors to broken windows and furniture
The residence of an animal hoarder features a strong smell of ammonia, given off by animal waste.
- Dried feces, urine, and vomit is evident throughout the premises
- Animals are not well socialized
- Animals are lethargic and underfed
- Fleas and vermin are present in the residence of an animal hoarder
- An animal hoarder is nearly always isolated from the community, including family members
- An animal hoarder appears to exercise even basic hygienic practices
- An animal hoarder is likely poorly nourished, quite like his or her animals
- As a matter of routine, an animal hoarder maintains that all of his or her animals are healthy and well taken care of, even if the animals obviously are ill and under stress