Animal hoarding occurs when people collect a large number of animals, often cats or dogs, but sometimes other pets as well. Just having a large number of pets doesn’t make one a hoarder, though. It’s animal hoarding when the pet owner cannot care for the animals properly. The hoarder does not have adequate space for the animals and fails to maintain proper sanitary conditions or provide necessary veterinary care. The hoarder seems not to understand how this affects the animals or how her behavior affects other family members. She minimizes the problem.
Animal hoarding is a difficult condition to treat. There is currently not a specific diagnosis in the DSM-IV (the manual mental health professionals use to diagnose mental health problems) for animal hoarding. Professionals used to think animal hoarding was related to obsessive compulsive disorder but now many think that’s not the case, at least not all the time.
Counseling is strongly recommended for animal hoarders, but it may be difficult to find a counselor with much knowledge of the condition or much experience treating it. It’s important for a counselor to educate herself about the problem and seek out the latest information on the condition. Animal hoarders often have a history of trauma and often suffer from attachment issues, so counselors should address those concerns if applicable. Individual counseling is indicated, but a support group may also be helpful.
According to the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, the medications that doctors often prescribe to treat obsessive compulsive disorder do not appear to be effective in the treatment of animal hoarding. Some animal hoarders suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety, though, and they may benefit from medications for those disorders.
It is usually necessary to re-home at least some of the animals in the hoarder’s home since the hoarder generally has insufficient space for all her animals and is unable to provide proper care for them. Animal hoarders are often resistant to the idea of re-homing some of their animals and may need a lot of gentle encouragement and support during this process. It should be understood, though, that just because some of the animals have been removed from the home, the problem is not solved. The large number of animals in the home is not the problem itself; it’s a symptom of the problem. Simply removing animals from the home is not enough. Ongoing treatment will be necessary to prevent the problem from recurring.
Case Management and Social Services
The animal hoarder may benefit from referrals to a variety of social services, including medical care, financial assistance, housekeeping assistance and assistance with home repairs. The hoarder may need assistance re-homing animals and cleaning up the house after some of the animals have been moved. If legal charges are pending for animal abuse or neglect or for violation of housing regulations, a referral to legal aid may be necessary. A social worker or case manager can make referrals to appropriate services and provide additional support to the hoarder.
Animal Hoarding. http://www.animalhoarding.com/Characteristics-Animal-Hoarding.html. Characteristics of Animal Hoarding.
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. http://www.tufts.edu/vet/hoarding/intervention.htm#A1. Intervention.
Tufts University. http://www.tufts.edu/vet/hoarding/pubs/famfriend.pdf . Animal Hoarding: Recommendations for Intervention by Family and Friends.