Animal shelters face a lot of hurdles while caring for and rehoming unwanted pets. The most difficult hurdle is 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 those deaths on the shelters. Before pointing the finger, though, consider these 3 major reasons why shelters have to euthanize pets.
Animal shelters are breeding grounds for diseases. Even the most meticulously cleaned kennels and sanitized cages cannot keep illnesses from sneaking in. 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 almost impossible to get rid of.
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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 preventatives.
Because 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 to euthanize 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
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 the following:
- Food, toy and treat aggression
- Reaction to touching
- Reaction to body language
- Reaction to certain noises
- Interaction with other dogs and cats
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 euthanized 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.
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 euthanasia.
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The most obvious reason for euthanasia 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 to euthanize less adoptable pets to make room for the never-ending influx of unwanted animals.
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.
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You can help make a difference. Consider these options:
- 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.
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.
In the video below, a former shelter worker who performed euthanasias explains the toll it has taken on her:
Ending the need for euthanasia 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.