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Cat Hoarding- What You Should Know

By: Renae Hamrick, RVT

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What is Cat Hoarding? Well, it goes something like this. A call comes into the Humane Society... the gentleman calling has noticed a horrible odor of urine and feces coming from his neighbor's home. Sometimes he even hears the sad cries of what sounds like numerous cats. He fears that his neighbors are neglecting their pets. Action is taken quickly; this is a potentially dangerous case of cat hoarding.

Cat hoarding (also called cat collecting) is the collection of large quantities of cats without the ability to properly care for them. Not everyone with many pets is considered a hoarder. It is possible to have more cats than the average home, give them the love and care they need, and simply be exceptionally devoted to pets or even a "crazy cat lady". Hoarding is when the population becomes out of control, and the animals and even the humans living with them suffer.

Improper diet, lack of veterinary care, and an unsanitary environment are the results of the overly large population (often more than 100) which cannot be afforded and maintained. The typical home of a hoarder has horrific living conditions. Many things are covered in feces and urine; often waste several inches thick is present in some areas of the house. It is not uncommon to find cat corpses lying about and severe illness and malnourishment amongst the live population.

Single, middle-aged to elderly women are the most common cat hoarders. However, anyone of any sex, age, or class can be guilty of this cruel habit. It is believed that most hoarders suffer from mental illness, often obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoarders may seem healthy and "normal" outside their home. They will deny their obsession and do everything to keep their extreme pet population a secret, for hoarders fear that others want to harm or euthanize their pets.

People who collect cats truly believe they are being helpful to the animals in their home. They feel they are doing a good deed; some even refer to their home as a rescue organization and to themselves as a saint. It is believed that mental illness makes them blind to the suffering their pets are enduring.

A cat collection may begin with the adoption of a couple cats who are never spayed and neutered. These cats begin breeding, their offspring begin breeding, and soon the population is quite large and out of control. A cat collection may also be fed by an obsessed person who adopts every stray cat he or she can find and accepts any cat who is free to a good home.

As mentioned above, the living conditions in the home of a hoarder are unfit for both the pets
and the humans living with them. The unvaccinated cats spread respiratory diseases and fatal infectious feline diseases such as FIV, FIP, and FeLV. Parasites, such as fleas and intestinal worms, are also present in high numbers in the hoarded cat colony. The hoarder usually does not have money to spend on veterinary visits, so the cats suffer and often die. Quality and quantity of food are not appropriate, so these sick cats are often also starving.

The ammonia levels from the waste in the house of a hoarder may make the air dangerous to breathe. In these cases, oxygen masks and protective clothing are worn by the teams evacuating the pets. Along with poor air quality, microorganisms from the pet waste and corpses make a hoarder's house a dangerous place to live.

It is extremely rare for hoarders to realize they have a problem and ask for help. Cats in this situation are usually rescued when a Good Samaritan suspects a problem and reports the situation.

If you are suspicious of a cat hoarder, DO NOT be afraid to do something. The suffering cats need and very much long for your help. Call your local police department, animal control officer, or humane society. You can do it anonymously if you prefer. That one phone call will be the first step in ending the suffering of many kitties, preventing suffering of future feline victims, and making a huge difference in the animal world.

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