Cats in cat hoarding environments breath in ammonia fumes

This is a topic which is rarely if ever discussed. In the homes of cat hoarders, you invariably find that there is a strong smell of ammonia. This is because of the high concentrations of ammonia in cat urine, higher than that in human urine. And if the area in which they live is very confined like a campervan, the cats within it are breathing in high levels of ammonia for a very long time. This adds to the potential for ill-health. These sorts of levels of ammonia can harm health profoundly.

Many cats in truck looking at camera. There were 43 cats inside this U-Haul truck.
Many cats in truck looking at camera. There were 43 cats inside this U-Haul truck. Image in public domain. These are not the cats in the story.

We are used to reading about cats being rescued from a hoarding environment suffering from upper respiratory tract infections, secondary bacterial infections (in the eyes particularly), fleas, worms, ringworm, anorexia, and starvation. But we don't hear about this background health issue which pervades the atmosphere namely the gas of ammonia.

And ironically, it is the hoarders who also inhale this gas, day in and day out. It must do them harm as well. I was reminded of this problem because of a story emanating from Rhode Island's Providence Animal Control. They rescued 18 cats in an abandoned camper. (Newsweek report) They described it as the worst case of animal hoarding that they had seen.

They said that the ammonia levels inside the camper was so high that they'd make a person going into it ill for days. I suspect that they wore masks and hazmat suits. But when I think about that I think about the cats. How long were they in that campervan breathing in this foetid ammonia?

Of course, all the cats were flea-ridden, filled with worms, emaciated and they had ringworm as well. These sorts of cat hoarding cases start within the home and sometimes the person loses their home and lives in a camper and takes their cats with them. And sometimes they use a camper as extra space to hoard more cats.

The case also brings to mind another issue about cat hoarding. What causes it? You will find that it is agreed by the experts that cat hoarding is a mental illness. My personal viewpoint is that a person who hoards any object can also hoard cats because they seem to treat cats as 'objects' which is why they neglect them.

But the reasons why people hoard cats are complex. Once again, in my view, the starting point is insecurity. It is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders which is also due to a feeling of insecurity and the need to control things. But people hoard objects because they think they might need them. They are playing safe. They keep them just in case. And if the basic mentality is to play safe because they are risk-averse, this points to insecurities. These people are insecure, anxious and worried. They collect these items around them to help them feel more secure. But, as mentioned, there are other issues such as depression and perhaps on occasions delusional thinking.

Associated: Cat hoarder admits defeat and seeks help which is rare.

The last point is evident because very often they say they love cats but they neglect them so badly that they harm and kill them. They don't acknowledge this deficiency in their thinking. They end up putting their dead cats in freezers. This is an extension of the hoarding process. They can't even bury them or cremate them. They have to keep the bodies whole in their home. There is no question it is a form of madness.

Associated: Cat hoarder and his 16 cats sue the local authority for compensation

Cat hoarders do their best to hide what they're doing and therefore they are cognisant of what they are doing. This is one peculiarity of their mental health. They don't recognise that they are killing their cats through neglect but they do recognise that they might upset the neighbours if they found out what they were doing.

And this brings me to the last point. When they are found out (due to the foul smell of ammonia leaking out of their home) and the cats rescued, the question is how do you deal with the person. Do you punish them or do you treat them with drugs and counselling? The answer is that you should do both. However, the more important part of the process is to work on their mental health issues to prevent them doing the same thing again. Often cat hoarders return to their bad habits. It's a deeply ingrained mental problem which perhaps can't be shifted even with the best treatments.

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