Faculty in Mississippi State’s Department of Psychology who study hoarding behavior are collaborating with faculty in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine to look at the implications of this disorder and its relationship to pet ownership.
A recent collaborative study found that animal lovers who strive to care for multiple pets — and have personal hoarding tendencies — may risk the quality of their own well-being and that of those in their care.
The resulting paper, “Increased animal ownership in the home with worse health outcomes based on health care indicators examined in dogs and cats in rural Mississippi,” is published in a recent online edition of Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Written by Mary E. Dozier and Ben Porter, assistant professors in the Department of Psychology at MSU College of Arts and Sciences, and Jacob Schiffley and Mary “Becky” Tilley, both clinical assistant professors in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine. Published in the next issue of JAVMA.
Although most people with hoarding disorder collect things, for some people their main struggle is having more animals than they can take care of, said Dozier, whose primary research focus is on characterizing and treating hoarding disorder. “Most of the research on animal hoarding has focused on extreme cases. We wanted to look at what the normative patterns of animal ownership look like, particularly in rural areas, and whether there are any trends we can detect related to animal health.”
Dozier and Porter examined the records of a decade of community veterinary services at MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, looking for the number of dogs and cats per household and indicators of animal health, both positive — such as dental visits — and negative — such as hydration problems.
Dozier said that individuals with animal hoarding disorder may not realize how their hoarding tendencies interfere with the health of their pets because they often feel like they are “saving” animals and are unable to recognize the losses in both the animals and themselves.
Their research revealed that animals from households with eight or more animals were associated with worse health, likely resulting from owners owning more animals than they have the capacity to handle appropriately.
Dozier said, “One of my goals is to find ways to identify people who may need help. This research project was the first step toward finding ways to detect animal hoarding and then connect those individuals with mental health services in the community.”
Dozier is currently leading a research project funded by the National Institutes of Health to help older adults with hoarding disorder. Her team offers free therapy to seniors who live within an hour’s driving radius of campus. Interested individuals may contact Dozier at 662-325-0523.