Animal hoarding is a mental illness wherein an individual keeps an unusually large number of animals in her possession, but she is unable to provide for all their needs. For example, a person may have dozens of cats in her home, but the cats do not have access to adequate food, clean water, or a sanitary living environment. Animal hoarding is typically the result of a mental illness, but it affects more than the individual herself, as it also negatively affects the welfare of the animals and the general public. In most cases, the hoarder truly believes she is helping the animals, and as a result, she is unwilling or unable to see that the animals are in poor health from their living conditions.
In many cases, animal hoarders collect large numbers of domestic pets, such as cats or dogs. In some cases, they may collect other animals, such as rabbits, birds, or ferrets, and they might even collect large or farm-type animals, such as horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep, or chickens. Occasionally, a hoarder will keep exotic or wild animals. Regardless, there are usually too many animals that are kept in a small space and not given the appropriate care. In all cases of animal hoarding, the hoarder believes that the animals are better off living in the poor conditions than living elsewhere.
Research is currently unclear as to exactly why a person engages in animal hoarding. Some research indicates that it may be the result of a personality disorder mixed with an attachment disorder. Other research links it to other mental illnesses, such as depression or paranoia. Sometimes, a person may begin hoarding after some type of emotional trauma, such as the death of a pet or even a loved one.
There are several telltale signs that a person is engaged in animal hoarding. To begin with, there are usually too many animals for a single person to maintain. Generally, there will be filthy conditions, such as rodents, fleas, urine, and feces throughout the home as well. The person will believe that she is helping, but she will consistently use poor judgment and be unable to analyze the situation, causing harm to herself, the animals, and even the surrounding neighbors. For example, the person might develop a rash from flea bites or a cough from poor air quality resulting from the abundance of urine and feces in the home.
It often is difficult to treat someone who engages in animal hoarding. Since the root causes of the condition are still being discovered, therapy is a common starting point. If the mental illness is treated, the hoarding may end. Oftentimes, the person simply should be monitored and not allowed to keep pets she cannot maintain. Such an intervention can be done by family, friends, or a protective services agency.