Convenience Euthanasia

People like to hide behind language when discussing the death of a pet which is why so often the word “euthanasia” actually means “to kill”. The phrase “convenience euthanasia” means to kill a healthy pet on the request of the pet’s owner.

The online version of the Telegraph newspaper in August 2016 reported that, in the UK, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) disclosed that 98% of veterinarians have been asked to euthanise healthy pets. The figure may surprise many people. It certainly surprised me. What is more, 53% of veterinarians say that it is not a rare occurrence.

In 98% of cases of a request to euthanise a healthy cat or dog the reason given was “bad behaviour”. It is ironic that the pet’s owner is referring to their pet. Without wanting to be unnecessarily critical it could be argued that it is the pet’s owner who is behaving badly.

Other reasons for asking a veterinarian to euthanise a healthy cat or dog includes: the poor health of the owner and moving to accommodation which is unsuitable for the cat or dog. Sometimes the reason may be due to legal enforcement.

Once again, without wishing to be unduly cynical or critical, I’m sure that on many occasions the reason given is exaggerated or fictionalised. I feel very confident that the main reason why pet owners want their veterinarian to euthanise the healthy pet is because they want to get rid of the animal and they have not considered the more humane alternative of rehoming. Although clearly on some occasions such as dog aggression, which is obviously dangerous, convenience euthanasia may be a reasonable option for the veterinarian to take but I’m sure he does it reluctantly because aggression in companion animals may very often be due to poor socialisation which is the fault of another person; the breeder (I’m thinking of puppy and kitten mills).

Experienced veterinarians will not be surprised when confronted with a request by a client to euthanise their healthy pet. However, this does not lessen the ethical challenge faced by the veterinarian under these circumstances.

I’m sure that the vast majority of veterinarians do their utmost to avoid carrying out the client’s request. For example, they could try and convince the client to tackle so-called animal behavioural problems. This will often mean tackling behavioural problems in the human caretaker. Behavioural issues regarding cats often emanate from the environment created for the cat by the person caring for the cat.

I’m sure that there are many veterinarians who never carry out convenience euthanasia. As mentioned, this is a matter of personal conscience and clearly some veterinarians cannot bring themselves to carry out such a request. However, they no doubt believe that the client will simply go elsewhere or perhaps the client will abandon the animal. These thoughts must pray on their minds.

Veterinarians would confess that sometimes, reluctantly, euthanasia is the best option. This situation occurs with respect to aggressive dogs more than with any other case. Aggressive dogs present safety issues and that must be the clinching factor which encourages veterinarian to make the decision to carry out their client’s request. Barking and howling dogs is also another problem.

With respect to cats, inappropriate elimination (another euphemism) is a reason why a client may request euthanasia. This is a sad state of affairs, if one is honest, because inappropriate elimination can often be resolved quite easily.

Veterinarians have to consider the psychological welfare of the pet’s owner. That’s what the veterinarian says in his article for the Telegraph newspaper. I find that an interesting comment. I would have thought that the sole focus of attention and concern should be the welfare of the companion animal. The veterinarian’s oath would insist on that. I suppose the argument is that the animal’s welfare is dependent on the person’s welfare and there is the underlying dilemma: humans really do have dominion over animals as stated in the bible.

Some particular situations present particularly challenging ethical dilemmas. Sometimes, an elderly cat owner may request in there Will that their cat is euthanised. Apparently there are no rules or guidelines on this for veterinarians. Each vet has to work through their own response according to their own conscience.

Vets are not obliged to euthanise healthy animals when requested. Most often the veterinarian will try and resolve the matter without euthanasia but it seems that sometimes for some animals euthanasia is the least worst option.

Sadly, I cannot help but feel that “convenience euthanasia” is another example of a failure in the human-to-companion animal relationship. It is a selfish death. The owner is being selfish: getting their way without regard for the welfare of their companion animal (unless there is a genuine reason for it which I sense is relatively rare).

It would seem that many clients confess to their veterinarian that they have suffered agonies before making their decision to euthanise their healthy companion animal. I wonder if this is genuine behaviour on the part of the pet’s owner.

Another veterinarian, Dr Patty Khuly DVM, writing on that says that other reasons why clients request convenience euthanasia are (a) the cat hates their husband. They make this judgement because they say that their cat bites their husband every single time that he “swats his nose with the newspaper” – you have to laugh or you’d cry, (b) the cat is so nervous that they don’t see him/her anyway (c) the cat attacks others and is ruining the lives of the other cats in the household. You can see through all these reasons as inadequate and all of them are caused by the inability of the cat’s owner to deal with the matter properly.

The conclusion that one is compelled to arrive at is that convenience euthanasia is almost invariably a failure in human behaviour to properly manage the human-to-pet relationship. It is the responsibility of the companion animal’s owner to take charge responsibly and ethically.

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