A recent scientific article authored by OSMA’s own Dr. Linda Jacobson and published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery sheds new light on our understanding of hoarded cats in animal shelters.
What was the study about?
A retrospective study was conducted by analyzing medical records pertaining to hoarded cats taken in by The Toronto Humane Society between July 2011 and June 2014. Over this period the shelter took in 371 hoarded cats from 14 different sources. The data was analyzed to examine where the cats came from, how they were surrendered, their signalment, which medical conditions were most prevalent depending on source, the difference in medical conditions seen in cats from non-institutional (hoarding in a home setting) and institutional hoarding (hoarding within a rescue or shelter) environments, and length of stay and outcomes for hoarded versus non-hoarded cats.
What were the main findings of the study?
Sources of hoarded cats: Of the fourteen total sources, nine groups of cats came from home environments, two groups came from rescues, one group came from an informal rescue, and two groups lacked source data.
Type of surrender: Two groups of cats were surrendered directly by the owner or a family member, one group was transferred from the local municipal shelter after being seized, and 11 groups were brought in by or with help from intermediaries. 95% of the cats were brought in voluntarily with 68% being brought in by intermediaries and 18% being brought in by the hoarder directly with the help of an intermediary.
Signalment: 47% of cats were juveniles, 51% were adults, and 2% were seniors. 87% of the cats were intact and 18% of breeding age females were pregnant. 75% of the cats were recorded as having an ideal body condition score, 19% were underweight, and 6% were overweight.
Medical conditions: The prevalence of different conditions varied between groups.
- Upper respiratory infection (URI) was the most prevalent condition, being present in 13/14 groups of cats. 38% of the hoarded cats were diagnosed with URI at intake and 28% developed URI after intake. 13% of cats had chronic URI with the vast majority of these cats showing signs at intake.
- Skin disease was present in 12/14 groups, with 30% of cats having skin lesions (40% had inflammation, 27% had alopecia, and 35% had wounds/injuries). Ringworm was diagnosed in 13% of cats, fleas were present in 22% (present in 10/14 groups), and aural disease was noted in 29% of cats. 88% of aural disease was caused by ear mites (present in 9/14 groups) and 12% was non-parasitic otitis.
- Oral disease was not present or was mild in 84% of cats, 14% had moderate to severe gingivitis and 2% had gingivostomatitis.
- Retroviruses were present in a small number of cats. 5% were FIV positive and 1% were FeLV positive.
- Chronic diarrhea was present in 5% of cats. 84 cats were tested for intestinal parasites and 29% of those were positive and consisted of a variety of parasites including tapeworm, coccidia, Giardia spp., roundworm, or a combination of 2 of the aforementioned.
Institutional hoarding vs non-institutional hoarding: There was a significant difference found between institutionally hoarded and non-institutionally hoarded cats for URI at intake and chronic URI with prevalence being 23.7 times higher in the institutional hoarding groups.
Outcomes for hoarded and non-hoarded cats: Outcomes for the 371 hoarded cats were compared to 6,359 non-hoarded cats surrendered to the shelter during the same period. The live release for the hoarded cats was 95.9% and for the non-hoarded cats was 92.5%.
Length of Stay to adoption for hoarded and non-hoarded cats: Length of stay was calculated for 249 hoarded cats and 4,171 non-hoarded cats. Median length of stay was similar for the two groups.
What is the relevance of this study for shelters?
- This study demonstrates the importance of intermediaries in the surrender process for hoarded cats. Intermediaries played a significant role in facilitating the relinquishment of a majority of the hoarded cats taken in by the shelter during the study period. This highlights the importance of shelters being involved in the community and acting as a resource for people in need of assistance and those looking to help others in need.
- Hoarded cats had a similar live release rate, adoption rate and length of stay compared with non-hoarded cats. The hoarded cats were generally young and the medical conditions identified were curable or manageable for the most part. This study demonstrates that hoarded cats can be highly adoptable in the shelter environment.
- This study is one of the first examining the difference in disease rates amongst cats hoarded in institutional versus non non-institutional environments and the first to define institutional hoarding. The cats from institutional environments showed significantly higher rates of URI and chronic URI. These differences were attributed to long periods of stress and overcrowding as well as exposure to endemic disease. This study highlights the need for more awareness and intervention of institutional hoarding.
- Jacobson LS, Jiacinti JA, Robertson JV. Medical conditions and outcomes in 371 hoarded cats from 14 sources: a retrospective study (2011-2014). J Fel Med Surg 2019 June 12 Epub ahead of print; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098612X19854808?journalCode=jfma
Blog post by Dr. Laura Balanoff DVM