Euthanasia (Greek, "good death") is the practice of killing a
human or other animal, in a painless or minimally painful way, for
merciful reasons, usually to end suffering. This article discusses non-human animal euthanasia;
a separate article covers
euthanasia in humans.
An animal is euthanized when it is killed in a manner deemed to be humane,
and in the case of a pet, in accordance with the emotional needs of the owner.
This process is commonly referred to by the euphemism
"put to sleep".
It can be done with inhalant agents, noninhalant pharmacologic agents
(administered by a lethal injection), and physical methods. Pets are almost
always euthanized via lethal injection, typically a very high dose of a
barbiturate anaesthetic such as pentobarbital. Unconsciousness, respiratory and
cardiac arrest follow rapidly, usually within 30 seconds to several minutes
later. Pet owners generally consider it to be a quick and peaceful death.
Pet and livestock owners might decide to do this when the animal is suffering
significantly due to injury or terminal illness, is overly aggressive, or when
the owner/guardian is no longer able to keep or care for the animal and is
unable or unwilling to find a new home for it. Additionally, many stray and
feral animals, in
particular, cats, are
euthanized due to the lack of adoptive homes. In this latter case, the simple
presence of the animals may be considered objectionable by those who live or
work nearby, and who trap the animals (or request the assistance of animal
control services to do so) and surrender them to the local animal shelter.
Euthanasia is typically performed in a veterinary clinic or hospital, or in
an animal shelter, and is usually carried out by a
veterinarian, or a veterinary technician working under the vet's supervision. Note that
euthanasia is performed at the discretion of the attending veterinarian, who may
refuse an animal owner's request to euthanize if he or she feels it is not
medically or ethically necessary (so-called "convenience" euthanasia).
Some in the
animal welfare or animal rights movements consider the use of the term
"euthanasia", with its connotation of being done to ease suffering, to be a
misnomer when applied to the euthanasia of homeless (or soon-to-be homeless)
animals that are otherwise healthy and free of behavioral disorders. Some
breeders also kill puppies that do not conform to the standard of the dog breed
to prevent the perpetuation of the perceived flaws or faults. Most modern
spay or neuter the animals and place them in homes as pets.
Animal shelters often euthanize animals when they can't find a home for
them, typically after a standard period of time (ranging from several days to
several weeks for unclaimed stray animals). Some consider this immoral and
cruel; others believe that euthanasia is a less objectionable alternative to
having unwanted animals go to unsuitable homes or having them live out their
lives in shelters which generally do not have the funding to give unlimited
numbers of animals proper care and exercise indefinitely. Behavioral
unsuitability for adoption (ie, aggression, house-breaking, etc) is a major
non-clinical reason for euthanasia in animal shelters.
So-called "no kill" shelters exist, some run by private animal welfare
organizations while others are subsidized wholly or in part by local government
agencies. These shelters make it official policy to never euthanize animals for
non-medical reasons. Overcrowding, lack of adoptive homes and underfunding are
recognized problems. Supporters consider these minor compared to the ethics of
euthanasia they consider unnecessary.