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Overcrowding and Hoarding

Region: Ontario Answer # 4013

What is hoarding?

Although the terms hoarding and overcrowding are often used to describe the same thing, hoarding is the action taken by an individual, while overcrowding is more of a consequence or result of the hoarding.

Animal hoarding refers to the accumulation of pets to the extent that an individual is unable to provide proper care for the animals in their home, and often themselves, leading to unsafe and unsanitary conditions. This includes the inability to:

  • provide a basic standard of care (e.g.. shelter, nutrition, sanitation, and veterinary care), and
  • act on the worsening condition of the pet or environment

There are no laws specifically addressing hoarding in Canada. However, since severe hoarding conditions may lead to the starvation, illness or death of the animal, offences and penalties could fall under the same laws that govern overcrowding. This includes the federal Criminal Code and provincial statutes regarding standards of care for pets, animal cruelty and protecting the well-being of animals, as well as municipal by-laws that limit the number of pets a person may have.

What is overcrowding?

Overcrowding is defined in the federal Health of Animals Regulation as a lack of adequate space because of the number of animals, to the point where:

  • an animal is unable to maintain a desired position or adjust its position to protect itself from injury,
  • it increases the likelihood of developing a disease, or
  • that the animal will suffer or sustain an injury or die.

The Health of Animals Regulation prohibits overcrowding only in the context of transportation. Section 148 (1) states:

“No person shall load an animal, or cause one to be loaded, in a conveyance or container, other than a container that is used to transport an animal in an aircraft, in a manner that would result in the conveyance or container becoming overcrowded, or transport or confine an animal in a conveyance or container, or cause one to be transported or confined, in a conveyance or container that is overcrowded.”

Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits permitting unnecessary pain, suffering, or injury to an animal, with a maximum imprisonment of 5 years or a $10,000 fine and/or imprisonment for up to 18 months.

Under the Criminal Code, failing to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter, and care for an animal that you own or is in your care is punishable by imprisonment of up to 2 years or a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to 6 months imprisonment.

While these provisions speak to the protection of animals on a federal level, each province also contains its own regulations regarding animal welfare and safety.

Provincial law

In Ontario, the Standards of Care and Administrative Requirements Under Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act requires that every animal be provided with enough space to move naturally and exercise, sanitary conditions, air, and light, and must be provided with the care necessary for its general well-being. The Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act provides that a failure by the owner or carer to provide a pet with these standards of care or any person causing the animal to be in distress is an offence punishable by imprisonment and/or fine.

Distress is generally understood as “the state of being in need of proper care, water, food or shelter or being injured, sick or in pain or suffering or being abused or subject to undue or unnecessary physical or psychological hardship, privation or neglect.”

Most provinces have their own versions of the PAWS Act and use the same language of adequate care and causing distress to describe the obligations of pet owners and people caring for animals.

Municipal by-laws and the number of pets you can own

Many municipalities have by-laws to control the number of pets you can have. These by-laws also deal with other issues regarding pet ownership such as licensing rules.

In Toronto, the maximum numbers of pets a person can own is six cats and three dogs. In Ottawa, it is five cats and three dogs.

In Sudbury, if dogs and cats are not spayed or neutered, you can have a maximum of two licensed dogs and two licensed cats per household. If you currently have more than two unaltered dogs and two unaltered cats you will be allowed to keep these extra pets as long as you can prove that you were in possession of them before the new Animal Care and Control By-law came into effect on March 1, 2017.

There are different limits for pets other than dogs and cats, such as rabbits, birds, and snakes. Owners who violate these by-laws could face penalties such as warnings, fines, or seizure of their pets by animal control authorities.  Check with your own municipality’s website to determine what limits are placed on the possession of pets in your community.

What can you do if you have concerns over animal overcrowding or hoarding?

If you discover an animal is being neglected, treated cruelly, or is subject to overcrowding, there are at least three ways you can help:

  • report it to municipal or regional authorities
  • report it to provincial animal welfare services or an animal protection organization
  • report it to the police

As of January 1, 2020, the Ontario Government’s Animal Welfare Services team handles animal protection services in Ontario.  To report an incidence of overcrowding, neglect, and/or distress, call 1-833-926-4625. It is also acceptable to call 911 in the case of an emergency, where there is immediate danger or distress.

For more information, view 4037 Neglected pets and cruelty to animals.

More info

For more information on overcrowding and to view the legislation, visit our Links. If you witness an act of cruelty to, or neglect of an animal, or suspect it is taking place, contact your local Humane Society or SPCA right away.


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