A love for animals ... or an indication of mental illness?

A love for animals ... or an indication of mental illness?
In one case, 94 cats, mostly Siamese, were kept in cramped conditions in a two-room flat in Fernvale Link. According to a Facebook page, Saving the Siameses, the animals were allegedly kept by a backyard breeder who could no longer care for them. Photo: Saving the Siameses Facebook page

A love for animals ... or an indication of mental illness?

SINGAPORE — While animal hoarding is not recognised in the standard classification of mental disorders, Dr Kelvin Ng, a consultant with the Institute of Mental Health’s department of community psychiatry, said there are still signs and symptoms that diagnose such behaviour.

They include the accumulation of numerous animals, which overwhelms an individual’s ability to provide minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation and veterinary care.

A hoarder may also fail to recognise how the conditions of the animals and the household environment have deteriorated, as well as the negative effect of raising these animals on his or her health and well-being, and that of other household members.

While there is little information on animal hoarders, Dr Ng noted that from the few cases here, they are animal lovers who believe that they are actually providing adequate care —though this can sometimes be far from the truth.

In general, hoarding becomes a disorder and requires treatment when the hoarder finds persistent difficulty in throwing out their possessions.

Such behaviour can be found in two types of people. One is a person with underlying mental health issues, such as schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder.

The second is a person who does not have mental illness but does have a hoarding problem. This could be a result of having experienced loss or stress in the past. Dr Ng said these individuals may try to fill this “void” with hoarding.

A 2010 Singapore Mental Health Study, which surveyed 6,616 Singapore residents, found that the weighted prevalence of lifetime and 12-month hoarding behaviour was 2 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively.

Dr Gloria Lee from Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai) said some cats that are hoarded do not get adequate food and suffer from untreated life-threatening illnesses such as kidney or severe dental diseases. Other problems are associated with the lack of general care, such as dirty or matted coats, infected ears, and upper respiratory tract infections.

Certain viral diseases such as cat flu, feline leukaemia and coronavirus can also be more prevalent for those that lived in overcrowded conditions.

“Hoarding, regardless of what is being hoarded, be it animals or newspaper and junk, is a mental disorder,” said Dr Lee. “Hoarders need as much help as the animals themselves.” SIAU MING EN