Saturday, April 10, 2010

Understanding the human aspects of animal hoarding

December 2008

By: Amanda I. Reinisch

An animal hoarder is defined as someone who has accumulated a large number of animals and who: 1) fails to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care; 2) fails to act on the deteriorating condition of the animals (including disease, starvation or death) and the environment (severe overcrowding, extremely unsanitary conditions); and often, 3) is unaware of the negative effects of the collection on their own health and well-being and on that of other family members (1). Animal hoarding has been gaining more attention from researchers in various areas of study, including sociological, psychological, and veterinary fields. Animal hoarding is considered a special manifestation of compulsive hoarding (2,3,4).
The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium reviewed the case records of 71 incidents from across the United States and Canada to determine what characterizes a typical animal hoarding case (5). Of the cases reviewed, 83% involved women (71% involved individuals, who were widowed, divorced, or single); 53% of the animal hoarding residences were home to other individuals including children (5%), elderly dependents and disabled people (21%). Often essential utilities and major appliances such as showers, heaters, stoves, toilets, and sinks were not functional. Residential home interiors were usually unsanitary, 93%; 70% had fire hazards; and 16% of residences involved in animal hoarding were subsequently condemned as unfit for human habitation. In 25% of the cases, the hoarder was placed under permanent or temporary protective care (3).
Elderly individuals are at an increased risk for zoonotic diseases due to underlying medical conditions that weaken their immune systems (1,3). There is also a health risk from to ammonia, which at high concentrations causes ocular and respiratory irritation (1,3). The ammonia threshold limit values (TLVs) for a healthy individual should not exceed 25 ppm over an 8-hour period (4). The TLV is lower if the exposure has exceeded 8 h or if the individual is elderly or has respiratory problems (3). For short-term exposure (15 min), the recommended TLV is 35 ppm (3), while 20 ppm will cause an individual to feel uncomfortable, and 100 ppm will cause irritation of the upper respiratory tract, eyes, and nose (4). There is little information on ammonia levels in animal hoarding cases; however, 1 case reported levels of 152 ppm (5).