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Euthanasia and dogs

Note: This is a guest post by Radha Deep. Radha manages the blog Dog Care Reviews and also contributes articles regularly to the site Good Dog Food.

Did you know that 9.6 million animals are euthanized in the United States every year? According to the American Humane Association, this is the number of animals killed because of various reasons ranging from terminal illnesses to behavioral problems. An animal may be euthanized by a vet in his or her clinic or the pet’s home, or it may be induced by a qualified person working in an animal shelter.

A recent survey about animal shelters revealed that 56% of dogs are euthanized, while about 40% are reunited with their owners or adopted by new owners.

Some of these shelters are run by voluntary animal welfare organizations while others are run with government support. There are many no-kill shelters that euthanize only for medical reasons. However, some of these shelters send the unclaimed, unadopted animals to other shelters where they may or may not be killed.

Choosing euthanasia as the only workable option for a pet is very stressful for his owner. It creates a host of emotions ranging from anger, frustration and distress to helplessness. There are voluntary organizations like CARE (Companion Animal Related Emotion) that offer emotional support and a much-needed helpline to pet owners.

CARE is staffed with veterinary students who function as emotional counselors after undergoing orientation and training. They are in turn supervised by a licensed psychologist.

Euthanasia in Greek actually means “good death.” It is a term denoting that a humane death has been induced for a suffering or unwanted animal.

But why are animals euthanized? Here are the chief reasons for euthanizing dogs:

– Severe symptoms and loss of basic functions due to old age.

– Lack of residing area for the animal. Yes, unfortunately this is a significant reason why dogs get euthanized. Pets are abandoned with nobody to claim them and no space to hold them.

– Temperamental abnormality, as in a severe case of aggression where an animal bites or attacks indiscriminately and can’t or isn’t trained to get rid of the behavior.

– The most important and prevalent reason for putting an animal to sleep is based on medical grounds:

  • If the dog is afflicted with an illness that has no chance of recovery, such as an advanced stage of cancer.
  • Symptoms so severe and debilitating that it seems humane to put the dog to sleep rather than see him suffer.
  • Broken legs or other bones that do not allow the animal to function normally and he suffers from constant and severe pain.

So how does one decide the point when euthanasia is an option on medical grounds for the pet? The quality of his life will always be a subjective judgment, but these indicators may help you decide:

– Is the dog able to perform his daily functions of eating, drinking and sleeping without external help?

– Are there any treatment options still available that can improve the dog’s health/behavior?

– Can he see and hear well enough for his safety?

– Does he have a consistent level of recognition of the house and its members?

– Has the extra care and support you give him in his present condition affected the quality of your life? This is especially important if the dog shows signs of aggression.

– Does the control of urinary or bowel functions seem a problem for him?

– Does he appear short of breath after completing simple actions?

– Does he refuse food and water for days?

The commonest method of euthanasia for dogs is by injecting a strong dose of an anesthetic such as pentobarbital either directly into the heart or intravenously so the pet dies within 30 seconds.

Pet owners opt for burial or cremation of their loved animal and can seek the services of pet funeral homes for the same.

What people are doing about it

Pet lovers are doing their bit to bring down the numbers killed. They:

– Practice responsible pet ownership.

– Spay/neuter the dogs if they are not being bred.

– Avoid buying dogs from pet shops.

– Provide a balanced, healthy and fortifying diet for the dog to keep him strong and immune to most illnesses.

– Keep him clean and safe.

– Train him right from the beginning (either by themselves or with professional help) to follow commands without punishing or hurting him. They are firm, gentle and affectionate in order to help him maintain a pleasant temperament.

– Adopt an animal from a shelter and/or offer their services to animal shelters to work at a grassroots level and create awareness about the problem of abandoned pets.

Animal shelters help reduce the prevalence of the problem by:

– Spaying/neutering animals prior to adoption.

– Working towards more adoption of animals in shelters by promoting their cause.

– Providing a clean environment, nutritious diet and easy access to veterinary care for the animals.

– Providing apt medical facilities for animals.

– Having special and well-equipped care centers for unwell animals and for those animals in trauma.

– Conducting periodic training and behavioral sessions for the animals.

Radha Deep manages the blog Dog Care Reviews and also contributes articles regularly to the site Good Dog Food. If you would like to write a guest post, send me an email at [email protected]

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 25th of November 2012

Sorry to hear about your loss, Deb. I am sure you made the right choice for your unfortunate situation. Thank you for loving your dog and for also taking responsibility. I hope you hang onto all those good memories.

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 25th of November 2012

Deb, I believe you might benefit from the support of the community that's built up around my post on euthanizing aggressive dogs. You are not alone.


Tuesday 21st of June 2011

I am writing a paper on euthanasia of dogs due to behavioral problems and am having trouble finding any numerical data. CAn anyone recommend a source? Thanks.

Deb Fink

Sunday 25th of November 2012

I just put our beautiful Irish Setter to sleep, we adopted him, he was given up for adoption by his original owners. Six years old, He was so happy when he came to live with us...we had him two months and four days...first he bit me, then another time my husband, son, daughter's boyfriend, me again, neighbor who stuck his hand in the truck, this doggie loved walks and truck rides,, bit me again and finally our little 7 month old granddaughter who had her little hand outstretched for more grapes, sitting in her high chair. Not severe bites but severe enough to break the skin. Then he would put his eyes down and look instantly like now why did I do that? Food aggressions, and he ate plenty, walked four to five times a day. I lost 20 pounds in two months. He loved me and I loved him....I put my family at risk...he had a funny thing with socks, became mean, aggressive and you could never pet him when he was resting. I just feel so bad, I know I had to do this,,,because I couldn't trust him, and I couldn't adopt him to another family with this behavior... but he was so happy when I came home every afternoon and he walked twice a day too with my husband. . He'd kiss me and jump and make happy sounds. I just feel so bad I couldn't fix him. I just feel very sad.

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 21st of June 2011

I don't have that info. Thanks for visiting my site, though.

Open Source

Monday 8th of December 2008

Bob Barker said it and I believe it...Spay and neuter your pets. Also if you ever get another dog or cat...You have to adopt. that's pretty much all there is to it

Mayra Calvani

Friday 26th of September 2008

This is a wonderful post and one that both saddens and compels me to think. Thanks for sharing it.

Mayra Calvanis last blog post..Review of The Tiniest Tiger, by Joanne L. McGonagle


Thursday 25th of September 2008

I was there when my parents dog was put to sleep- she was an oldie- and her quality of life was very dismal... It was very hard to see the pain it caused my stepdad- Everyone at the clinic was very very kind and handled us with the utmost care.

This is a very useful entry Thank you

vees last blog post..National Pet Memorial Day, Tribute for Pearl