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.: When there is an excessive number of animals in a home, it 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 for territory 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 have severe adult ADHD, which makes it difficult for them to keep their living space clean and orderly. They 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. Without treatment, 100 percent of animal hoarders will relapse: Removing the animals just clears out space for more. A special note: Children of hoarders need support and therapy too; they suffer greatly from their parent's affliction. They can find info at childrenofhoarders.com.
Q.: Over the past year or two, my husband has gotten angrier and angrier. He started out ranting at the TV news, traffic, that sort of thing. Now he picks fights with family and friends. I'm worried he's going to blow a gasket — and damage important relationships. What can I do to help him? — Sandra S., Lakewood, Ohio
A.: Constant agitation or anger is risky for body and soul. One Danish study found that frequent conflict with your spouse, children, other family members, friends and neighbors doubles or triples the risk of dying during any time period. And another new piece of research finally linked the biochemistry of angry emotions to cardiovascular damage. University of Pittsburgh researchers used brain imaging to show areas activated by negative thoughts (such as anger). They were able to see how activation of those brain areas increased bodywide levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interlukin-6. That, along with the stress hormone cortisol, contributes to the buildup of plaque in your arteries, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, dementia and an early death.
As for what can help your husband, getting him to a therapist is No. 1 on the list. That could help him identify the causes of his anger. Is it work-related? Or is he out of work? Job and money pressure are the top two causes of stress. And stress often leads to random anger. Is it related to alcohol or drug use or withdrawal? Or is his anger provoked by a family relationship? There are almost always solutions, even for these sticky situations. Of equal importance: You can help him get seven to eight hours of sleep nightly, and try to make sure his diet is free of pro-inflammatory added sugars and syrups, saturated and trans fats and grains that are not 100 percent whole. And if you two start a daily walking routine (headed for 10,000 steps a day), that also will dispel stress.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to youdocsdaily@share care.com.