October 05, 2016

The Reality of Owner-Requested or Convenience Euthanasia

The British Veterinary Association recently published results of a survey which revealed 98% of veterinarians are asked to euthanize a healthy pet. 
By Jenina Pellegren
More than 700 veterinarians were polled across the United Kingdom in The Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) recently published the results which revealed 98% of veterinarians have been asked to euthanize a healthy pet.

The survey cites problems with behavior or poor socializing at an early age as the main reasons for owner-requested or convenience euthanasia. In a news release, BVA President Sean Wensley pointed out, “Nobody enters the veterinary profession wanting to euthanize healthy pets, but this is the stressful situation that many vets are facing because of undesirable behaviors in pet animals.”

Recently American Veterinarian spoke with Emily Yunker, DMV, associate veterinarian at Branchville Animal Hospital in Alabama who said, “Yes, I have done owner-requested euthanasia. It is never an easy decision to make. There are reasons it may be necessary. In my case the dog was unsafe and in my professional opinion, unable to be rehabilitated. It is sometimes the only thing that can be done. Rehoming the dog would put another family in danger.”

The BVA and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) have guidelines and policies in place regarding euthanasia. However, determining whether or not an animal can be rehabilitated or re-homed is completely subjective and up to the individual veterinarian. Most veterinarians will do all that they can to avoid convenience euthanasia and only do so after all viable options are considered. Sometimes, it may even be in the animal’s best interest. No veterinarian is required to euthanize a healthy animal; rather, they should carefully consider any other options that may be available.

There are cases a veterinarian will refuse. Often, when this happens, the companion animal will be relinquished to a shelter, where they are likely to be euthanized anyway. According to ASPCA pet statistics, 2.7 million animals are euthanized annually, which includes approximately 1.2 million dogs and 1.4 million cats. “Is it fair to have the same 1% of veterinarians perform 90% of healthy animal euthanasia? Shelter medicine shouldn’t bear the moral brunt,” Dr. Yunker said.

In order to prevent convenience or owner-requested euthanasia due to behavioral issues, new pet owners should work closely with their veterinarians in the first year of ownership. This will ensure a strong human-animal bond. Veterinarians should work to guide their patients toward evidence-based behavioral advice and provide referrals to accredited behaviorists.

Behavioral problems, left unchecked, can sometimes sever the human-animal bond; this is why it is critical that pet owners consider the importance of socializing and training before adopting a new pet.

While behavioral issues were reported to be the main reason owners put pets down, they were not the only reason. Approximately 39% of respondents cited “moving to [an] accommodation that is unsuitable for pet” as another reason and 32% said owners were being legally forced to euthanize.

Unfortunately, owner-requested or convenience euthanasia is sometimes unavoidable. Dr. Yunker said, “Animals don’t understand death the same way humans do. It is my responsibility to see they do not suffer. Euthanasia literally means ‘Good Death’ and I believe it is the last gift you can give a companion animal. A good death without suffering.”

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