Euthanizing a companion animal due to behavioral problems. Are there alternatives?
Problematic behavioral problems in companion animals are one of the most frustrating and emotionally draining challenges for their owners. Resolving these problems can often be extremely difficult; especially for animals who are hard to handle, aggressive and/or destructive. In these cases owners may become frightened of their pet and truly believe that the only two solutions for their dilemma are to either surrender the pet or have it euthanized. As far as this writer is concerned, there are no “bad” pets; they are simply companion animals whose behavior is misunderstood.
For those of us who deeply love animals, it’s a priority to learn what we can do to help a troubled pet. In fact, just the thought of making the decision to euthanize a companion animal due to serious behavioral issues is shocking and highly disturbing.
Unfortunately, behavioral issues are a common reason given by owners who have made that decision. But have these owners fully explored what they may be contributing to the situation and fully willing to do whatever it takes to rectify it?
We make a huge commitment to the pet we adopt. We promise to provide our companion animal with a permanent loving home and to take responsibility for all aspects of our pet’s life. Not only does this include feeding or learning how to best provide our pet with a species appropriate diet, regular veterinary care, interactive play and exercise, but also to ensure that their emotional needs are fully met.
Pets cannot verbalize their feelings. The only way they can communicate that something is amiss is through their behavior. There is always a reason for a pet to start acting out aggressively or becoming destructive. It’s up to the guardian to “listen” to what they are “saying.”
And even though these types of behavior are often frustrating and alarming; in my opinion it’s critical for owners to quickly get to the root of the problem in order for it to be successfully resolved. In fact in the majority of cases, this negative behavior can be positively changed but only if the owner is willing to examine the ways they are interacting with their pet, or to explore if the pet has a physical problem or if they have neglected to provide something that the pet is truly missing.
I can’t tell you how many times I have anguished over messages left on pet sites where irate members are complaining that their pet’s aggressive or destructive behavior has “driven them up the wall”. As a result of their pet’s exasperating behavior, some of them are even planning to either relinquish, or have the pet euthanized. And in spite of the many excellent suggestions given them by folks who have a great deal of insight into animal behavior, these owners are unwilling to go the extra mile to keep their commitments.
With the sizable advances in behavior therapy made over the years, I believe that euthanizing an animal is never warranted. Even if the owner has totally given up and has made this decision, after euthanizing the animal owners often experience overwhelming guilt. Additionally, relinquishing or rehoming the animal only results in more problems for the pet making rehabilitation even more difficult.
Today there is an abundance of resources available to pet owners living with companion animals with serious behavioral problems. As an example, Jackson Galaxy’s TV show, “My Cat from Hell” has demonstrated that the behavior of cats creating havoc in the lives of their owners can be positively transformed when the owners become savvier about feline nature and the ways in which their interactions can affect their cats. Over the years, he has saved countless cats and has restored harmony in their homes. Also, of course, this website has a plethora of pages on cat behavior.
Do you believe that euthanizing a pet who is exhibiting serious behavioral problems is ever justified? Please share your views in a comment.
P.S. Very rarely there are cats in homes who’ve been mentally damaged. And they even beat experts like Jackson Galaxy. One such cat was Lux.
Update August 10, 2022: this is an update by Michael. Jo Singer very usefully discusses domestic cats in homes on April 23rd, 2015. I would like briefly to mention shelter cats. Very often their lives depend upon their behaviour. And their behaviour in shelters can often depend upon the size of the cage in which they are placed and whether the interior of the cage is enriched to a certain extent. And of course, some shelters place their cats with foster parents. Both optimising cage space and placing cats with fosterers helps them to behave naturally and express their true character which almost always enhances the prospects of them being adopted.
I believe, as others do, that perfectly adoptable and well-mannered cats in shelters can end up behaving in a way which gives the impression to potential adopters that they are unadoptable because of the stresses of the circumstances under which they find themselves such as, for example cage space, the noise and the unfamiliarity of the surroundings. It is very difficult to ensure that cats are relaxed in shelters. And I’m sure that every shelter manager is thinking about how to successfully overcome this challenge.
Below are some more pages on ‘bad cat behavior’. Reminder: bad cat behavior is feline behavior which is always explicable and natural but it is a form of behavior which is disliked by some humans.