An unknown number of people engage in pet hoarding in the United States. The exact number of people involved in pet hoarding isn’t known because most people who engage in this activity are relatively diligent about keeping the hoarding of pets hidden from others – at least initially.
In this article, we discuss the ins and outs of pet hoarding – and why it is a dangerous activity for people who engage in this type of hoarding, for pets themselves, and for other people. We also provide some basic information about how a person who hoards pets might be able to find relief from this type of activity.
What Is Pet Hoarding?
If you are like many, if not most people, you have a general idea of what is meant by pet hoarding. With that said, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or ASPCA defines pet hoarding as:
Pet “hoarding” can be identified when a person is housing more animals than they can adequately and appropriately care for. It is a complex issue that often encompasses mental health, animal welfare and public safety concerns. Pet hoarding is defined by an inability to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care – often resulting in over-breeding of animals, animal starvation, illness and even death. In some cases, guardians believe they are helping their animals and deny this inability to provide minimum care.
Is Pet Hoarding a Mental Health Condition?
Pet hoarding is not specifically classified as a mental health condition. Hoarding disorder is classified as a recognized mental health condition and has existed since the early 21st century. Pet hoarding – and animal hoarding more broadly – is a type of hoarding which is a mental health disorder (as discussed a moment ago).
In addition to being a type of hoarding disorder, pet hoarding can also be indicative of hoarding behavior. Hoarding behavior is conduct that involves the accumulation of things – including pets – but the individual has not reached the point that they can appropriately be classified as having the mental health condition of hoarding disorder. The primary distinction is that an individual with hoarding behavior is not as emotionally unable to get rid of items hoarded. A person with hoarding disorder is apt to experience overwhelming stress and anxiety over the thought of getting rid of items hoarded.
Some mental health professionals believe pet hoarding should be considered an independent mental health condition. In other words, pet hoarding should be separated from hoarding more generally as a mental health condition. These experts maintain that there are enough differences between hoarding more generally and pet hoarding that warrant independent diagnostic classification.
Why People Hoard Animals?
As mentioned a moment ago, mental health professionals consider pet hoarding a specific manifestation of hoarding disorder more broadly. With that said, some attributes commonly are associated with people who hoard pets:
- Pet hoarding is usually accompanied by a history of inadequate or disordered attachments to other people.
- Most pet hoarders have psychological and social histories that have been chaotic and traumatic since childhood.
- Most pet hoarders seem to have grown up in households with inconsistent parenting
- Pets may have been the only stable feature in the childhood home of a person who engages in pet hoarding as an adult.
- Some people who hoard pets begin that behavior following a traumatic event or major loss.
- Biological factors, including genetics, may also underpin pet hoarding.
How Pet Hoarding Is Harmful to Companion Animals
Pets are negatively impacted in four primary ways when they are in a hoarding environment:
- Lack of proper housing
- Inadequate nutrition
- Improper hygiene
- Lack of proper healthcare
The ASPCA succinctly delineates how pets are harmed as a result of being hoarded:
Animal numbers keep increasing as the hoarded animals are usually not desexed and breed indiscriminately. The individuals responsible fail to recognize what is happening so they deny that the animals are neglected and suffering, which in turn makes it difficult to intervene either to rescue the animals or provide appropriate human services support. Hoarded animals are often forced to endure horrendous conditions where they are cramped together in small spaces, often living in their own excrement.
How to Identify Pet Hoarding
As mentioned previously, pet hoarding can sometimes be difficult to identify. With that said, some more commonplace signs are indicative of a person who is hoarding pets:
The most apparent sign of pet hoarding is that an individual owns an unusually large number of animals. In fact, a pet hoarder may not know how many animals they have in his possession.
The person is unable to meet minimal standards of care for pets in his or her possession, including:
- Veterinary care
- Residence has deteriorated:
- Dirty windows
- Broken furniture
- Holes in the walls
- Holes in the floor
- Extreme clutter
- There is likely to be a strong order in the residence
- Floors may be covered with:
- Animal feces
- Animal urine
- Animal vomit
- Animals may be:
- Fleas and vermin are likely present
- Pet hoarder is likely socially isolated
- Pet hoarder likely to have poor hygiene
- Pet hoarder likely to be physical unwell
- Pet hoarder likely to be mentally unwell
- Person may not be aware that there are issues with the wellbeing of animals.
Help for a Person Who Hoards Pets
If an individual is hoarding pets, professional assistance on two levels is usually necessary. First, an individual hoarding animals can best overcome the behavior or disorder by obtaining professional mental health assistance.
Second, hiring a professional to engage in this effort is highly recommended because of the nature of pet hoarder property cleanup. Pet hoarder property cleanup includes the elimination of biohazards. This is most safely and appropriately undertaken by retaining the services of a professional pet hoarder property cleanup company.