Q: I just read about a mom with two teenagers who was arrested because she had 60 cats living in her house. The conditions must have been a terrible health hazard. Why would someone do that?
GEORGE F., Deltona, Fla.
A: An excessive number of animals in a home creates a serious health hazard. Living with animal waste, hair, ticks, fleas and animal-borne diseases can be dangerous for people, especially those with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and young children. And it's a health risk for the animals if they're sick, malnourished and have wounds from fighting in crowded conditions. But what's often overlooked is the cause of this misery: It's an emotional disorder called animal hoarding. Around 3,500 people, with an estimated 250,000 animals, come to the attention of authorities every year.
Animal hoarders "collect" animals because they're compulsively driven to care for them; according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the neglect and abuse of the animals is accidental or unintentional - but the person is unable to prevent it. The hoarders often develop the obsession with caring for and loving pets after a trauma or loss. They also frequently combine extreme neglect of animals with extreme neglect, emotionally and physically, of themselves.
But animal hoarding can be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy that helps a person give up old habits and develop new ones.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate.