What Is Animal Hoarding?

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

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.

Some people hoard kittens.
Some people hoard kittens.

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.

Animal hoarders may collect farm-type animals, such as pigs.
Animal hoarders may collect farm-type animals, such as pigs.

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.

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - In some cases I can hardly fault their logic either. If they live in a poor neighborhood those cats or dogs aren't likely to find loving homes all that easily. There's a reason they are able to collect them in the first place.

It's easy to judge them when the house is emptied and the media results in the animals getting homes right away, but that wouldn't have happened if it wasn't sensationalized. It's more likely the animals would be put down if anything was done for them at all.


@Iluviaporos - It's a disease, pure and simple. And not one that I think is all that difficult to understand. People have evolved to collect things because it makes sense in a survival situation. And pet animals are often considered prized possessions above anything else a person might own, so it's not a big jump for the human brain to make that it's a bad thing to get rid of a prized possession, even if it doesn't make logical sense to keep it.

I find it to be very tragic, particularly as people who prize animals that highly in the first place are likely to be very distressed by their ill health, but simply won't know how to change their own habits. It's a rare hoarder who isn't aware on some level that what they're doing isn't sensible, but that doesn't mean they can change it.


I find this to be such a disgusting situation. I've seen a couple of reports on the news that focused on animal hoarding and the animals are always so miserable and often so ill that they have to be put down. I can't imagine anyone thinking that they have the right to keep animals in that condition, let alone as part of a collection.

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