Every year, about 250,000 animals are rescued from animal hoarders. These animals are often neglected, diseased, and hungry, which does not make sense because the general public assumes that a person who hoards animals does so to give their pets better lives.
Only recently has the world of psychiatry taken a serious look at animal hoarding, and hoarding in general. Here is an introduction to hoarding disorder, hoarding animals, the distinction between these two conditions, and why animal hoarding is a misfit in the mental health world.
What is Hoarding Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association, or APA, recognizes hoarding as a diagnosable disorder. Many people who have hoarding problems also exhibit symptoms that are suggestive of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD; as a result, psychiatrists initially diagnosed hoarders with OCD and managed their treatments with OCD treatment methods.
The APA recognized that hoarders were not responding to traditional OCD treatment methods; it recognized hoarding disorder as its own unique condition and, in 2013, added it to its official mental disorder classification system. Symptoms of hoarding include an inability to discard things, collecting items with little or no value, procrastination and avoidance in other areas of life, and excessive attachment to personal possessions.
What About People Who Hoard Animals?
People who hoard animals usually start with good intentions. These owners intend to rehabilitate and rehome the animals, but seldom do. They want to save every animal that they can, and this desire turns into a situation that they can no longer control. The animals become neglected, underfed, and sick, and their living conditions become downright abusive. Their owners assert that they are "saving" the animals, because they would rather these animals live in less-than-optimal conditions than die; often, animal hoarders are completely blind to how bad the living conditions have actually become.
Today, psychiatrists recognize that people who hoard animals--hundreds, in some instances--have very real psychological issues and they are not simply "big hearts" that went too far. In some cases, a person unwittingly begins hoarding animals after a traumatic event or a loss. In other cases, no identifiable event triggers excessive animal ownership.
Do People Who Hoard Pets Have a Hoarding Disorder?
At first blush, you might think that people who hoard things and people who hoard animals suffer from the same mental disorder. Yet, a person who hoards animals will exhibit a unique set of symptoms that are not simultaneously common to people who hoard inanimate objects.
Researchers have preliminarily learned that people who have a lot of pets--say, 20 cats--are no more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than people who have only one or two pets. They are, however, more likely to have a stronger emotional attachment to their animals, and more likely to suffer from both anxiety and hoarding-related behaviors, such as disorganization, cluttering, and inability to get rid of inanimate belongings.
Thus, it seems that people who hoard animals do, to some extent, suffer from hoarding disorder because they exhibit hoarding symptoms. Many psychiatrists also label animal hoarding as a form of hoarding disorder. Yet, the APA acknowledges that people who hoard animals have a condition that is markedly different than people diagnosed with hoarding disorder.
Even though researchers and psychiatrists are not yet certain how to diagnose people who hoard animals, they are making monumental steps in understanding why people hoard dozens, if not hundreds, of animals.Share
5 February 2015
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