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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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In writing about this unpleasant topic, I’m compelled to first proclaim that to me nothing sounds more horrible than being eaten by one’s own companion animal.

Fortunately, I have survived to 40 years without incurring any major damage from an animal’s bite, although I’ve had a few punctures and scratches from my canine and feline patients along the way.

It seems like every few months the media reports on an unfortunate soul who passed away and was discovered to be missing a few digits or chunks of other body parts as a result of the survival efforts of their starving household animal companions.

Recently, the Huffington Post made me aware of a horrific story about a woman found deceased and partially eaten by her cats. The article, Janet Veal, Reclusive Cat Owner, 'Gnawed And Eaten' By Pets After She Dies, read in part:

The body of a reclusive British woman was "gnawed and eaten" by her starving pets after she died, according to a coroner's inquest.

By the time British police discovered the body of Janet Veal, she'd apparently been dead for as long as three months. Her house made for a grim scene, littered with the carcasses of numerous pet cats and dogs that had been confined in the house and died of apparent starvation.

But then investigators discovered something worse: Veal's remaining cats had survived by feeding on her corpse.

"Certain parts of Mrs. Veal’s body were missing and had ... effectively been gnawed and eaten away by the animals,” Coroner Keith Wiseman said in Southampton Coroner’s Court.

Although Veal obviously felt no pain from the animal bites (as she was deceased), the mere picture of her cats and dogs gnawing on her cold dead limbs (or maybe they weren't so cold) makes me cringe. The circumstance brings to light the series of problems associated with people who are animal hoarders.

How many animals does it take to make a person an animal hoarder?

Experts say that a person is classified as an animal hoarder when the number of pets they care for exceeds their ability to provide appropriate medical care. Additionally, animal hoarders have psychological and behavioral problems permitting reasonable recognition of the adverse effect their lifestyle has on their personal and professional relationships.

What makes an animal hoarder feel the need to bring so many animals into their home? The answer is multifaceted and typically results from animal hoarders having good intentions that go awry. They want to help dogs, cats, or other species, yet their altruism is skewed by underlying mental illness.

Why do I find this topic so intriguing?

I have come across people and situations in my veterinary practice that fit the animal hoarder characteristics. There are clear and valid concerns for the health of the pets and humans involved in these situations.

Invariably, urine and feces fouls the confined spaces housing an inappropriately large number of animals. Life-threatening diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites can be transmitted to people or other animals by feces, urine, saliva, blood, or trauma (bites, scratches). Additionally, general wellness is neglected; therefore, a variety of preventable illnesses emerge, or hoarded pets are discovered deceased.

Images of animal hoarding situations are often unsettling and send a powerful message that should promote greater public awareness of this serious veterinary and human public health problem. There’s even an Animal Planet show featuring the tragic stories of poor human and animal health (both physical and mental, for all involved parties) called Confessions: Animal Hoarding

In general, the point of the show is to shed a sympathetic light on animal hoarders and ultimately to help their furry companions who are suffering as a result of the hoarding environment. With greater public awareness, the animals involved in these unfortunate situations can receive proper medical care and be re-homed to more appropriate environments that conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Related Links:

Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium

Image: Fofurasfelinas / Flickr

Comments  3

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  • Hoarding
    09/03/2013 06:42pm

    "the number of pets they care for exceeds their ability to provide appropriate medical care."

    I'm so glad you gave a description rather than a number of critters because what's hoarding for one may not be for another. Actually, one household pet may be too much for some people to handle well, but I doubt the news would considered them a hoarder. In reality, they're just someone who shouldn't have a pet.

  • 09/10/2013 03:06am

    Thank you for your comments.
    As every household differs, so do the perceived number of pets that can be appropriately cared for by the human household members.
    Therefore, I did not want to say what number was too many.
    Yet, there are a certain number of animals (pets) per household that is deemed legal by local government authority. That is the baseline number that should be adhered to which can also potentially draw the line when it comes to what is or is not a hoarding situation.
    Dr. PM

  • The end of pets
    09/25/2013 02:04pm

    Hoarding is a complex situation that is about mental illness, but it goes far deeper than that as our society has started using animals as a replacement for our own species. As we continue to treat animals as though they were our own species i.e. children we have started affording them rights normally reserved for human beings. All species eat another species to survive as that is how nature has evolved. Today the animal rights cults have crossed that line by attempting to stop all use of animals as pets, for food, and for medical research. It is thought that these organizations will have removed the pet and pet ownership from our society by 2025 at least that is their hope. The tenth goal of the animal rights movement is to stop all breeding of animals for pets and to spay and neuter all domesticated animals until no more exist. You see city councils banning pet shops under the pressure of these cults now. The USDA has recently implemented a rule change to drive good breeders out of breeding pets that are well socialized. These cults have lied so much that anyone who chooses to breed is defamed and lied about. The idea that we no longer need to eat meat or own animals is a dangerous one for this society. What the public need is education about the differences between animal welfare and the cult idea of animal rights. These cults are working over time to pass laws that are suppose to be animal welfare but are in fact intended to make it impossible to own pets. For example the USDA requires puppies to be separated from their own mothers when weaned and all other adult animals including their own species. This means no house raised dogs or cats when USDA licensed. This means no well socialized pets will be allowed under USDA guidelines. The CT courts are now trying to classify horses as naturally vicious thus making it impossible to get insurance for keeping a horse. This change is being pushed by HSUS.

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