Position Statement on Hoarding


There are a variety of situations where people may have more animals than they can adequately care for.  Animal owners may become overwhelmed when changes in health, financial circumstances, or other factors impact their ability to provide proper care for their animals. Organizations that care for animals, such as rescues and shelters, may start as refuges for homeless animals, and over time, not have the resources needed to provide adequate food, water, veterinary care, and sanitation for a growing population of animals. These situations often come to light only when conditions have deteriorated to the point that the animals are suffering severe neglect or have died from starvation or untreated ailments. In some cases, individuals will continue to take in more animals even when it is clearly beyond their means to care for them.

The behavior of individuals who acquire more animals than they can care for may meet the clinical definition of hoarding disorder recognized in the 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Individuals may be engaging in animal hoarding if they:[1]

  • Have accumulated a large number of animals and fail to provide them with proper and adequate nutrition, sanitary living conditions, and veterinary care, including spaying/neutering;
  • Fail to respond appropriately to the deteriorating condition of the animals, including disease, starvation, or death;
  • Fail to effectively address substandard living conditions such as extreme overcrowding, the presence of excessive urine and feces, and lack of sufficient ventilation.

ASPCA Position

Animal hoarding cases often involve prolonged suffering for dozens or even hundreds of animals and can place enormous burdens on animal care and control agencies, local humane organizations, and law enforcement. They can also produce environmental and public health impacts that affect entire neighborhoods. These situations present complex challenges in addressing the needs of the animals involved, as well as the needs of the individuals who have failed to provide proper care. A multi-agency task force approach to hoarding that includes representatives from social services, mental health, public health, adult protective services, code enforcement, animal control, fire and rescue, and law enforcement is often an effective way to address this complicated issue.

The ASPCA believes that, when deemed appropriate by the relevant law enforcement agency, animal hoarding should be treated as a violation of relevant animal cruelty laws and/or laws requiring owners to provide appropriate food, water, shelter, and other care. Provisions expressly making hoarding a criminal offense are largely unnecessary since existing cruelty laws adequately address the situation. Because hoarders are especially prone to recollecting animals, the ASPCA supports civil mechanisms that allow for intervention before animals have deteriorated or died and provide for the court-ordered forfeiture of the animals when the owner is found unable to provide proper care. Court-ordered counseling for the owner and long-term monitoring for possible recidivism can also be effective judicial tools in appropriate cases.

[1] American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders 5. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.