Animal hoarding is a psychological disorder where a person accumulates a large numbers of animals at home, usually cats and dogs, without providing them with a minimal standard of care.
Details about the cause of the disorder remain largely unknown and but it obviously has a negative effect on the health of both the people who suffer from it and the animals involved. Researchers from Hospital del Mar Research Institute writing in Animal Welfare have tackled the first European study to compile data on this disorder
Currently, when a case is detected, the animals are removed but no attention is given to the person suffering the disorder. This person does not realize that his or her animals are in poor health and soon begins to hoard them again.
Sometimes these animals are found at obvious and critical levels of malnutrition, dehydration and parasitic infestation, with illnesses or uncontrolled breeding, all in a very unhygienic space.
The researchers believe that this disorder has implications for mental health, animal welfare and public health and therefore that recognizing its presence in our society is the first step in identifying and detecting cases early and dealing with them in the most efficient possible way. As different sectors must mobilize when a case appears, such as animal protection, public health, public welfare, etc, the group works in conjunction with government, creating multidisciplinary action protocols.
They say this is the first study to provide data on this syndrome in Europe and it has been possible thanks to the relationships of the researchers with organizations dedicated to the protection of animals. This put them in contact with various cases of the disorder and aroused their interest in the issue. Seeing that there was a vacuum in Europe they decided to contact the National Association of Friends of Animals (ANAA) and to retrospectively analyze the cases that they had collected in their database between 2002 and 2011. They created a questionnaire for the experts who had participated in these cases and all the information that the organisation had available was classified and standardized.
Until now all existing research on the issue has been carried out in the US, Canada and Australia, but with this study it has been demonstrated for the first time that this mental disorder also occurs in Europe and with similar characteristics. For the time being the data is not sufficient to know the percentage of the population which suffers from the disorder, nor to better understand the profile of those who hoard.
"This is the first step towards public recognition of this disorder, a disorder that constitutes a growing concern for government as it is becoming a serious problem for public health. There are still no standardised action protocols for intervention in these cases" states Paula Calvo, a researcher of the IMIM research group on anxiety, affective disorders and schizophrenia and of the "Cátedra Fundación Affinity Animales y Salud" (Affinity Foundation Chair for Animals and Health) of the Department of Psychiatry of the Autonomous University of Barcelona.