Why Do Animal Shelters Consider Putting a Dog Down: Understanding Pet Euthanasia

Every year, 2.7 million pets in animal shelters in the United States are euthanized — that’s around 36% of pets who enter the shelters.

Why Animal Shelters Consider Putting a Dog Down image
Pet overpopulation is a serious problem. It’s one of the biggest reasons why animal shelters consider putting a dog down. Photo: gazzafilms

Why Animal Shelters Consider Putting a Dog Down

Animal shelters face a lot of hurdles while caring for and rehoming unwanted pets.

The most difficult hurdle is putting a dog down through euthanasia.

Every year, 2.7 million pets in animal shelters in the United States are euthanized — that’s around 36% of pets who enter the shelters.

Those are difficult statistics to swallow for an animal lover, and it’s natural to want to place the blame for putting a dog down on the shelters. Before pointing the finger, though, These are the major reasons why shelters have to consider putting a dog down.


Disease Outbreaks

Animal shelters are breeding grounds for diseases. Even the most meticulously cleaned kennels and sanitized cages cannot keep illnesses from causing the need for putting a dog down.

Although keeping the shelter clean can help avoid an outbreak of the worst diseases, it still can’t prevent them all.

Have you ever seen signs in a shelter requesting that you keep your hands out of the animal cages? One of the reasons is to prevent the spread of diseases, such as upper respiratory infection and kennel cough, which are spread rapidly through direct contact.

Although a simple infection is easily treatable in our pets at home, a massive outbreak in a shelter environment can be financially crippling and lead to putting a dog down.

Other serious diseases, such as feline panleukopenia and canine parvovirus, are highly transmittable and deadly. Lyme disease and heartworm are expensive to medicate and common in pets who aren’t treated with tick and heartworm preventives, sometimes resulting in putting a dog down.

Photo: Arctic Warrior

Financial Constraints

Most shelters operate on tight budgets, the cost of treating every animal’s illness is impossibly high.

Many shelters have veterinarians to prescribe medications and perform exams for sick animals, but the decision of putting a dog down must still be made sometimes after considering several factors: The severity of the illness, The chance of recovery, How infectious the disease is, The cost of treatment, The length of treatment, The adoptability of the pet.


Temperament Testing

Pets of every disposition enter animal shelters daily, including highly aggressive animals.Each adoptable dog undergoes a temperament test before going up for adoption. The dogs’ behaviors are assessed through standard testing in a controlled environment. Generally, the dogs are checked for Food, toy and treat aggression, Reaction to touching, Reaction to body language, Reaction to certain noises, Interaction with other dogs and cats.

Behavioral Observation

Depending on their behavior and the staff’s comfort level with the dogs’ temperaments, the dogs are made available for adoption, placed on hold for more assessment, or potentially considered for putting a dog down if they pose a threat. Most shelters allow pets to acclimate to their new surroundings before they make them available for adoption. This time also allows the staff members to assess the pets’ behavior and watch for any aggressiveness.

Kennel Crazy Syndrome

Occasionally a pet becomes aggressive after spending weeks, months or even years in a cage. This is essentially a reaction to the continued confinement and is usually referred to as “kennel crazy.” Although an animal who has gone kennel crazy can exhibit signs ranging from depression to anxiety, aggression is often the least treatable and may lead to putting a dog down.

Photo: photographymontreal


Statistics and Facts

The most obvious reason for putting a dog down in animal shelters is also the most preventable. Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in the United States, leaving animal shelters over capacity and overwhelmed. When the number of incoming homeless pets far outweighs the number of eligible adopters, shelters have few options. They have to make the heartbreaking decision of putting a dog down if they are less adoptable to make room for the never-ending influx of unwanted animals.

Capacity Issues

7.6 million pets are taken to U.S. shelters annually. Of those 7.6 million, only 10% have been spayed or neutered. Twice as many stray pets are in shelters as those signed over by families. The number of dogs bought through breeders is roughly the same as the number adopted through shelters.

Preventive Measures

You can help make a difference. Have your pet spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters. Put an ID on your pet in case she goes missing. Don’t buy from a pet store. Adopt your pet to save a life.

Beyond the emotional toll, putting a dog down also involves significant financial considerations that vary depending on several factors.

Photo: National Library of Ireland on The Commons

Cost of Pet Euthanasia Procedures

Veterinary Fees

The cost of euthanasia procedures at veterinary clinics can vary widely based on location and the specific clinic. Typical fees for euthanasia at a clinic range from $50 to $150. These costs usually cover the euthanasia process itself, but additional services, such as examinations or consultations, may incur extra charges.

Associated Medical Costs

In addition to the basic euthanasia fee, there may be other associated medical costs. These can include costs for sedatives, pain medications, and any necessary diagnostic tests. If the pet has a complex medical condition, the total cost can increase significantly, sometimes reaching several hundred dollars.

Public Misconceptions

Myths About Euthanasia

There are several common myths about euthanasia that can lead to misunderstandings. One prevalent myth is that shelters euthanize pets simply due to lack of space, without considering other factors. Another myth is that euthanasia is a painless and easy decision for shelter workers, which is far from the truth.

Educating the Community

Educating the community about the realities of euthanasia is crucial. This includes explaining the various factors that go into the decision, such as illness, aggression, and overpopulation. Community education can also emphasize the importance of spaying and neutering pets to help reduce the need for euthanasia.

Shelter Regulations

Animal shelters must follow strict regulations regarding the euthanasia of pets. These regulations vary by state and often include requirements for how and when euthanasia can be performed. Compliance with these regulations ensures that the process is carried out humanely and ethically.

Ethical Decision-Making in Euthanasia

The decision to euthanize a pet involves careful ethical consideration. Shelter staff must weigh the quality of life of the animal, the potential for adoption, and the resources available. This decision is never taken lightly and is made with the animal’s best interests in mind.


Personal Responsibility

No animal shelter takes the topic of euthanasia lightly. The shelter business is one of rehoming and happy endings. The devastating reality of needing to humanely kill companion animals is the most difficult part of the profession.

Promoting Responsible Pet Care

In the video below, a former shelter worker who performed euthanasias explains the toll it has taken on her:

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Supporting Shelters

Ending the need for putting a dog down doesn’t start in the shelters. It starts in our own homes. Each of us needs to take responsibility to minimize the pet population, help fund our local animal shelters and promote responsible pet care.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does putting a dog down cost?

The cost of putting a dog down typically ranges from $50 to $150 at a veterinary clinic, but can vary depending on location and additional services.

How to deal with putting a dog down?

Dealing with putting a dog down involves seeking support from friends, family, or a counselor, and remembering the decision was made with the pet’s best interest in mind.

How does putting a dog down work?

Putting a dog down involves administering a sedative followed by a euthanasia solution, leading to a painless and peaceful passing.