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Ask the Vet: Hoarder Has Too Many Animals for Adequate Care

Dr. Lee Pickett on

Q: My neighbor has more cats than I can count, so I assume she's a hoarder. Should I intervene? If so, how?

A: Just having many cats doesn't make your neighbor a hoarder. What would make her a hoarder is having more cats than she can properly care for.

Hoarders fail to provide even minimal standards of shelter, sanitation, nutrition or veterinary care. The result is overcrowding, malnutrition and starvation, spread of infectious diseases and parasites, and pain from untreated illnesses and injuries.

In addition, hoarders are unable or unwilling to see their animals' suffering -- and sometimes even to recognize their home's odor of excreta or dead animals. Moreover, hoarders are reluctant to part with their animals, and they continue to accumulate more.

Cats are the most common species hoarded, followed by dogs and then small mammals, birds and livestock.

Of the three types of hoarders, the "overwhelmed caregiver" is most common. Overwhelmed caregivers passively acquire animals, frequently housing 15 to 30 pets. Often, they are socially isolated people whose self-esteem is tied to their caregiver role.


The second type of hoarder is the "rescuer." This person actively acquires animals, usually from 50 to 200, and may appear to be a rescue organization, except that most of their animals never get adopted.

If your neighbor appears to be an overwhelmed caregiver or a rescuer, contact your community's animal services and social services organizations.

The third type of hoarder is the "exploiter," a charismatic, manipulative person who actively acquires animals to serve their own needs. This type of hoarder is indifferent to the suffering experienced by the animals, lacks guilt and rejects outsiders' concerns.

It's best to report an animal exploiter to animal services and law enforcement.


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