Noah’s syndrome: how to treat the compulsive hoarding of animals?

People with Noah’s Syndrome compulsively adopt animals into their homes. Unfortunately, the hoped-for rescue quickly turns into a nightmare, the animals are piled up in unsuitable conditions, and their health is endangered just like that of the patient.

What is Noah’s Syndrome?

THE noah syndrome refers to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. God entrusted the latter with the mission of bringing together on an ark a couple of each animal species in order to save them from the Flood. People with this psychiatric disorder also want to save animals. They welcome them into their homes, but have neither “the means nor the space to take care of them”, explains psychiatrist Christine Barois. “Noah’s syndrome is a compulsive disorder characterized by the excessive and irrational accumulation of pets”, she defines. People suffering from this mental illness set themselves a “personal challenge: to be the only ones capable of taking care of animals”.

Noah syndrome is also called Animal Hoarding which means “animal collector” in English. In Quebec, the Laurentian Health and Social Services Agency issued a report in 2018 on this psychiatric disorder.This behavior can be considered a form of abuse even if collectors perceive themselves as benefactors,” the report notes. The psychiatrist insists on “the loss of reality” suffered by the patient. This one does not realize the state of the animal and is persuaded to do well.

Noah’s syndrome is different from Diogenes’ syndrome. These two syndromes are part of the hoarding disorders in the DSM V, reference manual in psychiatry. The difference is the object of hoarding. In Diogenes syndrome, these are useless or defective objects. On the other hand, Noah’s syndrome results in the accumulation of pets.

What are the causes of Noah’s syndrome?

“At first, one can imagine that people with the syndrome want to fill an emotional void with animals,” explains the psychiatrist. She adds that sick people are in a rescue dynamic. Isolation can be one of causes Noah’s Syndrome. An emotional shock or trauma can be a trigger for this syndrome: it can occur following a dismissal, a death, a breakup, etc.

“There is no particular etiology, it is a syndrome modeled with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) so there is a kind of psychorigidity, things must be like this: I have to adopt cats/dogs” , develops Christine Barois. The specialist also speaks of a “mirror effect”: the person who is the victim of rejection takes refuge with the animals thatmove away more and more of a conventional social life, so she adopts even more animals.

According to Canadian health authorities, the “typical profile of Noah’s syndrome” is as follows:

  • 75% are women
  • Mostly alone
  • 60% are over 40
  • 80% also pick up objects

What are the most accumulated animals?

The Quebec study explains that, on average, the person with Noah syndrome has 39 animals in her home. The accumulated animals are:

  • Cats (81%)
  • Dogs (55%)
  • Birds (17%)
  • small mammals (11%)
  • Cattle, sheep, goats (6%)
  • Horses (6%)
  • reptiles (6%)

What are the consequences of Noah’s syndrome?

These affect both the patient and the animals. “The person with this syndrome does not realize that the animal is not well” explains the psychiatrist. Still according to the study: 80% of them are found dead or sick, and 79% of houses have urine and feces ». The place of life is therefore not conducive to good animal healthand their poor hygiene favors the transmission of diseases. The person with Noah’s syndrome is neither able to provide vaccines nor enough food for all their pets. The patient is therefore faced with financial difficulties.

“When you are in pathology, you can no longer function socially, professionally and familythe animals monopolize all the space-time and the person suffering from the syndrome no longer has a life”, emphasizes Christine Barois on the mental health of the patient. But, the syndrome also attacks physical health with zoonoses, diseases transmitted from animals to humans. According to the study, here are the most common health problems encountered:

  • wound infections
  • Skin infections caused by fungi
  • Respiratory infections and allergies
  • Diarrhea
  • Parasites

Noah’s syndrome: what management?

There is no real Noah syndrome treatment.Patients who suffer from Noah’s syndrome rarely go to consult on their own. “They often develop a defense mechanism, since they fear the judgment of others”. It is often after the intervention of firefighters or the police (alert by neighbors or animal rights associations) that the patient comes into contact with a mental health professional – psychologist or psychiatrist.

Sometimes cognitive and behavioral therapy allows a questioning of his behavior by the patient as well as a regression of the Noé syndrome. “We try to make the patient aware of the pathological nature of his gait”. Even if the will is to save the animal, the opposite effect occurs. The objective is also to relieve the suffering of the person concerned by finding sources of comfort other than animals.

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