If you or a loved one are afflicted with hoarding disorder that involves animals – commonly called “animal hoarding” – recovery from this condition depends on a multifaceted approach. As part of the overall approach to recovering from animal hoarding, a person with the condition typically needs to undergo psychotherapy. There are a number of factors associated with psychotherapy and animal hoarding that you need to understand.

Diagnosing Hoarding Disorder Involving Animals

Many people afflicted with hoarding disorder involving animals do not seek professional assistance. People who hoard animals tend to be very deliberate in hiding their collecting of animals from others, including family and friends. 

The reality is that evidence that a person hoards animals may not be recognized by others until a person with this order has been engaged in this course of conduct for an extended period of time. There are many situations in which an animal hoarding situation isn’t discovered until a major catastrophe occurs, including the death of a person with hoarding disorder. Even then, because of the isolation from others associated with a typical person who hoards animals, a period of time may elapse before someone else becomes aware that a person with hoarding disorder has died. 

One of the ways in which a person afflicted with hoarding disorder involving animals receives assistance from a psychotherapist is because family or friends have staged an intervention. Through the intervention process, a person hoarding animals will ultimately agree to at least make initial contact with a psychotherapist.

The second way in which a person suffering from hoarding disorder involving animals obtains therapy is because a person who hoards seeks professional help for another mental health condition. For example, a person who is hoarding animals may suffer from depression, anxiety, or PTSD may seek professional assistance from such a condition. 

While seeking treatment for something like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, the issue of hoarding may be revealed. When that occurs, a psychotherapist will pursue the possibility that a client is afflicted with hoarding disorder involving animals. For example, a psychotherapist may seek permission to consult with a client’s family members or friends about the client’s situation. 

Psychotherapy as the Primary Course of Treatment

Psychotherapy, which is also referred to as “talk therapy,” nearly always is the primary course of treatment for a person diagnosed with hoarding disorder involving animals. Under the umbrella of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy is the most common derivation utilized to treat hoarding disorder. There are cognitive behavior therapeutic specialists that focus on working with people afflicted with hoarding disorder. Indeed, there are some psychotherapists who sharpen the focus of their practices to addressing the needs of people who hoard animals. 

Elements of Cognitive Therapy for Animal Hoarders

There are a number of specific components of the common course of psychotherapeutic treatment for a person with hoarding disorder involving animals. These components include:

  • Develop techniques to identify and challenge thoughts and beliefs related to acquiring and keeping an inordinate number of animals
  • Develop techniques to resist the compulsion or urge to acquire more pets
  • Develop techniques to organize objects and items more generally
  • Create and implement strategies to decrease the number of animals in a person’s possession
  • Improve overall decision making and coping skills
  • Utilize in-home visits from a therapist, professional organizer, and animal hoarding property cleanup specialist
  • Learn techniques to reduce isolation and increase involvement with others through more meaningful activities
  • Develop ways in which to enhance a true motivation to make change
  • Attend group therapy
  • Attend family therapy
  • Have other periodic home visits during the course of treatment to assist in maintaining healthy habits

Psychotherapy and Other Resources

When a person is diagnosed with hoarding disorder involving animals, psychotherapy is at the heart of recovery but it does not stand alone. Psychotherapy is the anchor by which a person diagnosed with hoarding disorder involving pets or animals accesses other resources that are vital to recovery. Some of these other resources that need to be connected to a psychotherapeutic process include:

  • Family members
  • Friends
  • Colleagues
  • Organization experts
  • Hoarder property cleanup professionals
  • Support groups
  • Support organizations
  • Support agencies

Medications and Hoarding Disorder

As of this time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved no medications to be used to treat hoarding disorder. With that said, there typically are other mental health conditions that are experienced by a person who is suffering from hoarding disorder involving animals. These include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD

While there exist no medications designed to address hoarding disorder itself, there are medications designed to address other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD – conditions that oftentimes afflict a person with hoarding disorder. The proper use of these medications can be invaluable in addressing one or another of these other conditions, medically referred to as other comorbidities. If some progress can be made in regard to a comorbidity suffered by a person with hoarding disorder, psychotherapy for hoarding can prove more productive.