Just Ask the Expert: What should I do if I suspect a client is hoarding animals?

June 4, 2019
Kirk Miller, DVM

Shelter medicine instructor and veterinarian Dr. Kirk Miller provides suggestions for this delicate dilemma.

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Editor's note: Dr. Kirk Miller, DVM, a clinical instructor of small animal primary care and shelter medicine at Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine and a practicing veterinarian with the Oregon Humane Society in Portland, was asked the following question during a recent Fetch dvm360 conference session by one of the attendees.

Q. There always seems to be a client who has more pets at home that don't make it to the clinic. They'll suddenly bring in animals you've never seen before but that they've had for years. You can tell that they're trying to provide care, but you get an uneasy feeling. Is there any good way to follow up on these suspicions without scaring off the client?

Too many pets, too little care

Learn more about hoarding from Dr. Miller here.

A. You definitely have to walk a fine line in private practice. One thing I would probably do is find a way to gain access to the home environment to get a sense of what's going on there. Offer a house call. You could say something like, “I noticed that some of your cats are due for vaccinations. Why don't I just come to you so you don't have to drag them all in?”

I was in a similar situation and ended up calling animal control. I knew the animal control officer, and he went and checked it out and found that the situation was OK. He was able to keep my tip anonymous, but you should definitely check with animal control first before assuming they will protect your identity. You don't want to risk damaging your relationship with the client, which could compromise the health of the pets you do see.