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Q: My neighbor has more cats than I can count, so I assume she's a hoarder. Should I intervene? If so, how?

A: Just having many cats doesn't make your neighbor a hoarder. What would make her a hoarder is having more cats than she can properly care for.

Hoarders fail to provide even minimal standards of shelter, sanitation, nutrition or veterinary care. The result is overcrowding, malnutrition and starvation, spread of infectious diseases and parasites, and pain from untreated illnesses and injuries.

In addition, hoarders are unable or unwilling to see their animals' suffering — and sometimes even to recognize their home's odor of excreta or dead animals. Moreover, hoarders are reluctant to part with their animals, and they continue to accumulate more.

Cats are the most common species hoarded, followed by dogs and then small mammals, birds and livestock.

Of the three types of hoarders, the "overwhelmed caregiver" is most common. Overwhelmed caregivers passively acquire animals, frequently housing 15 to 30 pets. Often, they are socially isolated people whose self-esteem is tied to their caregiver role.

The second type of hoarder is the "rescuer." This person actively acquires animals, usually from 50 to 200, and may appear to be a rescue organization, except that most of their animals never get adopted.

If your neighbor appears to be an overwhelmed caregiver or a rescuer, contact your community's animal services and social services organizations.

The third type of hoarder is the "exploiter," a charismatic, manipulative person who actively acquires animals to serve their own needs. This type of hoarder is indifferent to the suffering experienced by the animals, lacks guilt and rejects outsiders' concerns.

It's best to report an animal exploiter to animal services and law enforcement.

Animal hoarding is related to object hoarding and other mental health conditions. The recidivism rate for animal hoarding is very high, unless the hoarder receives post-intervention treatment. So, it's important to engage the appropriate agencies to help your neighbor.

Q My dog Chase's ear suddenly developed a large, soft, warm swelling that encompasses the entire ear flap but doesn't seem to bother him. Will the swelling go away on its own, or should I take him to his veterinarian?

A Whenever you notice any change in Chase, even one that doesn't seem to bother him, it's always best to make an appointment with his veterinarian.

It sounds like Chase may have an ear hematoma, also called an aural hematoma. A hematoma, Greek for a masslike structure ("-oma") full of blood ("hemat-"), develops when a blood vessel within the ear flap leaks and the ear ("aural" in Latin) becomes engorged with blood.

This probably occurred after Chase scratched his ear too vigorously or shook his head and struck his ear against something hard, like a coffee table.

If the ear hematoma is left untreated, the blood will be absorbed by his body, leaving a crinkled, scarred ear flap, sometimes called a cauliflower ear.

For a better-looking outcome, Chase's veterinarian will drain the blood and treat the ear to prevent crinkling and scarring.

Chase's vet also will check his ear canals to see whether an infection induced him to scratch his ear or shake his head. Fortunately, an ear hematoma alone doesn't impair hearing, as it affects only the ear flap.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at


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