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10 Warning Signs of Pet Hoarding – And How To Help

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10 Warning Signs of Pet Hoarding – And How To Help

Pet hoarding is now considered a bonafide mental illness. The newest edition of the DSM Manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the bible for psychiatrists, indeed lists hoarding and the sub-category of pet or animal hoarding as a unique mental illnesses. The disorder is most simply defined as keeping an unusual number of pets without possessing the ability to properly house or care for them, while simultaneously denying this inability.

Anyone can become a pet hoarder, but statistically, most are female, half are over age 60 and most live alone. But, do be careful – just because someone is female, over 60 and has many pets does not mean they have a mental illness.

Pet hoarding almost always starts out slowly – with a manageable handful of pets — but then over time, the number of animals becomes not only unmanageable, but completely out-of-control and a dangerous health hazard to both the pet owner and the pets.  So, are there red flags that a pet owner situation is slipping, or has slipped, from manageable and within the bounds of normal to being a situation requiring immediate intervention? Yes, absolutely.

According to the DSM Manual, the Mayo Clinic and other medical organizations that treat pet hoarders, these are the fundamental warning signs.

  • Unable to provide minimal levels of nutrition, sanitation, shelter and veterinary care.
  • In denial about both his or her inability to provide care and about the impact of that failure on the animals, their home and other people who live on the property.
  • In almost 70% of investigated cases, animal feces and urine are present in the hoarder’s home.
  • Sick or dead animals were discovered on the premises in 80% of the cases; and in 60% of these cases, hoarders denied there was a problem.
  • Extreme difficulty parting with an animal.
  • Home is deteriorated (i.e., dirty windows, broken furniture, holes in wall and floor, extreme clutter).
  • Isolated from the community and appear to also neglect themselves.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also cites these warning signs:

  • They have numerous animals and may not know the total number of animals in their care.
  • Animals are emaciated, lethargic and/or not well socialized.
  • Fleas and vermin are present.

Gary Patronek, VMD, PhD and founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) says most pet hoarders fall into one of three categories:

Overwhelmed caregivers: They begin rescuing or helping animals in a small way and/or acquire pets passively but become overwhelmed by their growing pet population and inability to say no. People in this category tend to be the most willing to consider downsizing.

Rescuer hoarders: The people in this group are driven by an extreme sense of mission. Patronek says a profound fear of death and/or loss drives them. Caring for animals provides a strong sense of identity; losing the animals is a loss of who they are.¯ Negotiated settlements, sometimes coupled with the threat of prosecution, work best here.

Exploiter hoarders: These people may be true sociopaths. Exploiter hoarders lack empathy for people or animals. They are manipulative, cunning and can be vicious. Prosecuting them with every legal option is often the only path to successful intervention. (Do remember however that being a sociopath is also a mental illness.)

If you suspect a hoarding situation it is your duty to report the situation to your local authorities, which can be your local humane society, animal control agency or police department.  Even if this person is someone you love and you fear they may get into legal trouble, the situation is inhumane for all involved and must be brought to an end as soon as possible. Help is available to people suffering from pet hoarding, but part of the definition of a pet hoarder is denial, so it really does take an outside person to make the first move.

As the mental illness of pet hoarding continues to be understood, less criminal charges will be levied and more humane intervention will be employed. The HARC program mentioned above provides a wealth of information as well as humane methods of intervention that extend beyond legal recourse, for people and organizations concerned about pet hoarding.


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Cherise Udell

Cherise Udell is a mom, clean air advocate, anthropologist and feline aficionado with the nomadic habit of taking spontaneous sojourns to unusual destinations. Before her adventures in motherhood, she was an intrepid Amazon jungle guide equipped with a pair of sturdy wellingtons and a 24-inch machete, as well as a volunteer at a rainforest animal rescue center.


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4:28PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

FYI inspector t. perhaps they use all caps so they can see what they are doing. If we could adjust our font sizes, maybe for typing, it would go to normal size when posting. That might help. Why don't you make the suggestion to the C2 Crew.

4:24PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

Well, duh...

1:49AM PDT on Jul 21, 2014

I always wanted to take in all the strays who didn't have a home & food or someone to love them, but my husband wouldn't let me! We have 6 now and they are all loved, spayed or neutered and taken care of like the spoiled brats they are (LOL)!!

2:52PM PDT on Jun 9, 2014

good to know

6:14AM PDT on May 29, 2014


6:14AM PDT on May 29, 2014


3:06PM PDT on May 27, 2014

It is sad, & it IS a mental illness. I am glad the author points out that just because someone has more animals than one might seem ordinary, that that doesn't necessarily male them a hoarder. Rescue ppl are ALWAYS overwhelmed, it's the nature of the work. The defining factor, is if the animals are being well taken care of, nutritionally, sanitation-wise, & medically, that they are all spay/neutered, etc. Rescue ppl ALWAYS need more help, it is the nature of the work. So help save the life of an animal in need and if you have a stable home environment, pledge to be a foster TODAY! I cannot stress enough how important volunteers are for every single rescue group & may mean the difference of life or death!

11:28AM PDT on May 24, 2014

Important information to know.
Shared in other webs.
Thanks for posting

2:03AM PDT on May 23, 2014

Tara B deserved several stars for her two comments - wish I had seen her first comment first (as it were) - she is quite correct, but I had already given her a star for her second comment as I saw it first ..... (think I need a rest!)~.

2:48PM PDT on May 16, 2014

Thanks a lot for sharing this! :)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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