When Does 'Saving' Animals Become Unhealthy Hoarding?

Cara Murez

Cara Murez

Published on May 18, 2023

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Key Takeaways

Animal lovers who adopt too many pets may have animal-hoarding disorder

Hoarding animals can take a toll on animals' health and that of their owners, new research shows

The magic number seems to be eight pets or more, which was associated with poorer health of the animals

THURSDAY, May 18, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- It's a wonderful thing to try to save stray animals, but for some people it can turn into a form of hoarding thats dangerous for pets and humans alike.

People who “hoard” animals may feel like they’re saving them, but caring for many pets may take a toll on their well-being and that of the animals they take in, according to a new study.

“Although most folks with hoarding disorder collect objects, for some folks their main struggle is having more animals than they can care for,” said lead author Mary Dozier, an assistant professor of psychology at Mississippi State University.

“Most research on animal hoarding has focused on extreme cases," she said in a university news release. "We wanted to look at what normative patterns of animal ownership look like, particularly in a rural setting, and if there were any trends we could discover related to animal health.”

To do that, Dozier and her colleague Ben Porter examined a decade’s worth of records from MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study looked for the number of cats and dogs per household and indicators of animal health. This included positive indicators, such as dental visits, and negative ones, such as hydration problems.

Dozier said people who have animal hoarding disorder may not recognize that these tendencies are impacting the health of their pets.

The researchers found that having eight or more pets was associated with animals having worse health.

“This research project was the first step toward finding ways to screen for animal hoarding and then connect those individuals with mental health services in the community,” Dozier said.

She is leading a research project funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to help older adults with hoarding disorder. Her team provides free treatment for decluttering for folks who live within an hour's drive of the MSU campus.

Study results were recently published online in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

More information

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America has more on animal hoarding.

SOURCE: Mississippi State University, news release, May 16, 2023

What This Means for You

People who take in too many pets may have animal hoarding disorder.

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