Animal Hoarding Animal Welfare Experiences from Different Countries and Cultures: Part 1a
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
J. Robertson
JVR Shelter Strategies, Principal Consultant, Belmont, CA, USA

The psychology of animal hoarding and the underlying behaviors that lead to this mental disorder are ones that have been speculated on but are not completely understood. The Hoarding Animals Research Consortium (HARC) formally defined animal hoarding using the following criteria:

  • Having more than the typical number of companion animals.
  • Failing to provide even minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and veterinary care, with this neglect often resulting in illness and death from starvation, spread of infectious disease, and untreated injury or medical condition.
  • Denial of the inability to provide this minimum care and the impact of that failure on the animals, the household, and human occupants of the dwelling.
  • Persistence, despite this failure, in accumulating and controlling animals.1

There are three basic classifications of animal hoarding that have been proposed to describe different forms of hoarding behavior and potential ways to engage with each of these types of individuals:

1.  The overwhelmed caregiver—This person is often most responsive to working with authorities because they are the less likely to deny that a problem exists. As the name implies, this is the person who had initial positive relationship with animals and authorities. Often a particular circumstance leads to them becoming overwhelmed and unable to care for the animals. They are less likely to be resistant to authorities and more likely to hand over animals to willing parties when offered assistance.

2.  The rescue hoarder (which I combine with institutional hoarding)—This may be the largest component of hoarding behavior to date, with more cases coming from institutional and rescue hoarders than other sectors. This person falls into the subcomponent of hoarding that is well described by Dr. Gary Patronek and Jane Nathanson in the book, Pathological Altruism. A pathway to attachment disorder is described as one potential model for understanding the psychology of the hoarder. This way will be described in the lecture.
Nearly one quarter of cases have been described as institutional hoarders or rescue hoarders. This person is more challenging for authorities because they work with others and are often fall under the guise of a legitimate non-profit organization.

3.  The exploiter hoarder—This person is the sociopath that does not have an emotional attachment to the animals that are being harmed. From this standpoint, it may not fit the diagnostic criteria of hoarding disorder as described in one study. This person is extremely challenging for authorities and has no regard for the animals in their care.

Hoarding disorder is now a mental disorder in the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders V and is no longer a subcomponent of other disorders. This lecture presents different case examples and studies currently highlighting approaches to animal hoarding.


1.  Ung JE, Dozier ME, Bratiotis C, Ayers CR. An exploratory investigation of animal hoarding symptoms in a sample of adults diagnosed with hoarding disorder. J Clin Psychol. 2016;73(9):1114–1125. doi:10.1002/jclp.22417

2.  Frost RO, Patronek G, Rosenfield E. Comparison of object and animal hoarding. Depress Anxiety. 2011;28(10):885–891. doi:10.1002/da.20826

3.  Frost RO, Patronek G, Arluke A, Steketee G. (2015). The hoarding of animals: an update. Psychiatric Times. Retrieved from

4.  Frost RO, Steketee G, Williams L. (2000). Hoarding: a community health problem. Health & Social Care in the Community, 8, 229–234.½2524.2000.00245.x

5.  Frost RO, Tolin DF, Maltby N. Insight-related challenges in the treatment of hoarding. Cogn Behav Pract. 201017(4), 404–413. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.cbpra.2009.07.004.

6.  Levy HC, Worden BL, Gilliam CM, et al. Changes in saving cognitions mediate hoarding symptom change in cognitive-behavioral therapy for hoarding disorder. J Obsessive Compuls Relat Disord. 2017;14:112–118. doi:10.1016/j.jocrd.2017.06.008

7.  Lockwood R.. The psychology of animal collectors. American Animal Hospital Association Trends Magazine. 1994;9:18–21.

8.  Nathanson J, Patronek G. Animal hoarding: how the semblance of a benevolent mission becomes actualized as egoism and cruelty. In: B. Oakley, A. Knafo. G. Madhavan, D. Wilson (eds.). Pathological Alltruism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2011:107–115

9.  Patronek G, Loar L, Nathanson J (eds.). Animal hoarding: Structuring interdisciplinary responses to help people, animals and communities at risk. Boston, MA: Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. 2006.

10.  Patronek G. Hoarding of animals: an under-recognized public health problem in a difficult to study population. Public Health Reports, 1999;114:82–87. https://doi. org/10.1093/phr/114.1.81.

11.  Patronek GJ, Nathanson J N.  A theoretical perspective to inform assessment and treatment strategies for animal hoarders. Clin Psychol Rev. 2009;29(3):274–281.

12.  Steketee G, Frost RO, Tolin DF, Rasmussen J, Brown TA. Waitlist-controlled trial of cognitive behavior therapy for hoarding disorder. Depress Anxiety. 2010;27(5):476–484. doi:10.1002/da.20673

13.  Reinisch AI. Characteristics of six recent animal hoarding cases in Manitoba. Can Vet J. 2009;50(10):1069–1073.

14.  Reinisch AI. Understanding the human aspects of animal hoarding. Can Vet J. 2008;49(12):1211–1214.


Speaker Information
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J. Robertson
JVR Shelter Strategies
Belmont, CA, USA

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