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How Many Pets Are Too Many? Another Look at Animal Hoarding

February 08, 2012 | 10,351 views
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By Dr. Becker

One of my goals here at Mercola Healthy Pets and in my veterinary practice is to help people with pets understand how to take the best possible care of their animal companions.

A pet owner with too many animals to care for properly has a problem that needs to be addressed, just as feeding poor quality pet food or allowing dogs and cats to be over-vaccinated are problems that need to be addressed.

Any activity that results in the poor health or mistreatment of companion animals needs to be brought out into the open and discussed.

Facts about Animal Hoarding

According to experts, animal hoarding is a mental condition closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Psychologists believe the syndrome is not about love, but about control.

Dr. Gary Patronek is director of the Tufts University Center for Animals and Public Policy and the founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium.

Dr. Patronek has done extensive research on hoarders and has found that:

  • 76 percent are women
  • 85 percent are middle-aged and 46 percent are older than 60
  • 50 percent live alone
  • 80 percent of the time the hoarded animals, when finally discovered, are dead or seriously neglected
  • The homes of some hoarders are in such filthy condition they must be burned down or bulldozed.
  • Animal hoarders exist in a state of complete denial, insisting the pets are fine and the house is 'just a little messy.'

Hoarders often start out with good intentions. But over time, the animals in their care cease to be sentient creatures and instead become objects that are part of the hoarder's 'collection.'

Like other types of hoarders, animal hoarders need professional help to overcome the behavior. Otherwise, once discovered, they will simply move to a new location and start all over again.

Not every person who ends up with more animals than she can care for is a hoarder. Hoarders are mentally ill and have a compulsion that drives them to collect certain objects.

By contrast, there are many normal, well-adjusted animal lovers who occasionally take in a few more rescues than they can really handle. These people aren't suffering from the syndrome known as animal hoarding.

It's Not Simply a Question of the Number of Animals Being Kept

Many people get quite upset when a specific number is mentioned as qualifying a person as an animal hoarder.

Experts agree it's not really a question of the number of animals involved, but the way those pets are being cared for. The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium defines the problem this way:

  • There is an accumulation of a large number of animals.
  • Those animals are not receiving minimal standards of care, including sanitation.
  • The person responsible fails to take action to correct the deteriorating condition of the animals and their housing.
  • The person responsible does not acknowledge nor act on the negative impact their animal collecting has on their own health and well-being.

How to Recognize When Enough is Enough

Whether it's you or someone you know who could be at risk of trying to care for too many animals, the situation requires an honest assessment. Some things to think about include:

  • Are the animals' living quarters large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone? Is there plenty of room for them to avoid one another if they choose? Are there enough napping and hiding spots?
  • How does everyone get along? Is there fighting? Are certain pets intimidating others? Is each pet comfortable enough to have a good quality of life?
  • How do the pets look? Are they clean, groomed and healthy looking? Are they able to move around comfortably? Do they get adequate exercise? Are they fed a good quality diet? Is everyone spayed or neutered and protected against disease (you can determine this with a titer test). Are they all getting wellness checkups at least annually, and more often for those with health conditions and senior pets?
  • How are things in the sanitation department? Are there plenty of litter boxes (at least one per cat), and are they scooped at least once daily and dumped and sanitized weekly? Are the dogs house trained? If puppy pads are used, are they disposed of before other animals walk on them, sample the goods, or drag them through the house? Does the home smell like urine or feces?
  • How clean is the home overall? Can the entire place be thoroughly cleaned on a reasonably routine basis? Is that happening? Are the bathrooms and kitchen clean and sanitary? Is the pet hair being removed from furniture and floors routinely?
  • How about the outside of the home – is it in decent condition? Weeds pulled, grass mowed, dog feces picked up and disposed of? Is the yard fenced for the dogs?

These are just a few things to consider if there's concern an animal caretaker might be getting in over her head.

Most of us -- no matter how much room is in our hearts for homeless pets -- don't have the physical space to match. Nor do many of us, if we're honest, have the time or resources required to provide an excellent quality of life to a large number of pets.

I have met several amazing people that are able to successfully and proactively care for 50 cats in their home (with a team of dedicated volunteers), but these people are the exception – not the rule.

We should all strive to avoid taking on more than we can handle in life, and that goes double for taking on more living creatures than we can reasonably care for.

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