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Introduction: The euthanasia problem-how practitioners can help


Although the statistics vary, estimates suggest that three to four million animals are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters every year.

Although the statistics vary, estimates suggest that three to four million animals are euthanized in U.S. animal shelters every year.1 This number requires no emotional embellishment; it is simply the toll of what has been called the disease of euthanasia. Progress has been made, and the number of animals euthanized in shelters has declined over the past several years. Still, how would the veterinary profession react if an infectious disease were claiming 250,000 animals in the United States every month? Can veterinarians better help reduce this number?

Animals are relinquished to shelters or euthanized for many reasons, including behavior or elimination problems, the cost of pet maintenance and healthcare, a change in the owner's living arrangements or family status, owner allergies or illness, and too many pets. Veterinarians cannot prevent all of these relinquishments or euthanasias.

But one study suggests that 70% of dogs and 50% of cats relinquished to animal shelters are seen by a veterinarian within the year before relinquishment.2 And according to a 2006 DVM Newsmagazine survey, 40% of practitioners report they are approached several times a year to euthanize healthy animals. Another 40% are asked to euthanize a healthy animal once a year or less.3

We don't know the number of animals that veterinarians already save from relinquishment or euthanasia through client education and in-house adoption efforts, but that number is likely large. However, it also follows that small, additional efforts in veterinarians' examination rooms may make a big difference in reducing the number of healthy or treatable animals euthanized. Something as simple as discussing proper puppy play at the first examination may help prevent future behavior problems and lead to a pet's remaining in the home.

In this special report, read the specifics about what other relatively simple things you can do—and many practitioners already do—to help reduce the number of pets that are relinquished and euthanized.

John Lofflin is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, Missouri.


1. The Humane Society of the United States. Common questions about animal shelters and animal control. Available at: http://www.hsus.org/pets/animal_shelters/common_questions_about_animal_shelters_and_animal_control.html. Accessed Oct 2, 2007.

2. Salman MD, New JG Jr., Scarlett JM, et al. Human and animal factors related to the relinquishment of dogs and cats in 12 selected animal shelters in the United States. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 1998;1(3):207-226.

3. Verdon DR. Cost of extending life: Stop-treatment points edge higher, DVM survey says. DVM Newsmagazine 2006;37(7):26.

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