Euthanizing a companion animal due to behavioral problems. Are there alternatives?

Bad cat behavior leading to euthanasia
Photo: Flickr User MiuMiuKitty
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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?

Angry grey cat?
Angry grey cat? Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

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.

Famously violent cat ‘Lux’ may have been systematically abused by man living in the home

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.

Video of caged cat at shelter tells us how desparate he is to get out

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.

Optimising cage space of shelter cats increases likelihood of adoption

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.

37 thoughts on “Euthanizing a companion animal due to behavioral problems. Are there alternatives?”

  1. Only once I had to give up on a cat, Junior. A beautiful black long hair male. He was born at my house after his young mother was thrown over my fence. Even after he was neutered he beat up every cat in the house 25+. It got to where even in the middle of the night I would have a cat fight. I had to send him to the local shelter and he found a good home as the only cat. I can deal with litter box issues etc but fighting just cannot be tolerated. And no there was nothing physically wrong with him he was just a a–hole LOL.

  2. Been a while since I have dropped in. So much chaos and stuff going on. I have mentioned this previously and still looking for a solution. Putting the cat down in NOT a option no matter how bad the situation gets. Have 3 sets of sisters ranging in ages from 12 years down to 7 years of age. They were all brought in as kittens each time. In the middle group there is one particularly vicious cat who attacks mainly the youngest group, but will attack even her own sisters and the oldest ones. Yes she is healthy and up to date on everything. Other than isolating one of the youngest one, which I have to for medical reasons stemming from previous attacks, are there any suggestions out there to help with this situation?

    • This is a tough one and as you have asked (and I guess you are an experienced and excellent cat guardian) it proves it is a difficult one to solve. I feel the best solution is rehoming in a home where she is the only cat with an calm environment and a placid human. That may be a simplistic and unacceptable solution and if so I apologise. It is the only idea that comes into my head. She may be very territorial and she is certainly unsociable. The domestic cat has become sociable over the thousands of years but each cat is an individual and it seems she leans towards being solitary which is the character of the original domestic cat: the first domesticated North African wildcat.

  3. Sir Hubble might be giving you a hint. He probably does associate the carrier with the vet, but it doesn’t bother him much.

    I have Samirah’s paperwork from her last wellness exam, which was two years ago. I didn’t see anything alarming, but it has been two years, so I think it’s past time for one again. The vet did say that he doubted that Samirah would allow them to take her blood pressure. He explained that would mean shaving some of the fur off her leg and scanning her leg with doppler equipment. I really don’t think she’ll allow that, but we’ll do as much as we can.

    She just seemed like a sweetie to me the first time I saw her. There was something sad about her. During the last visit she became irritated at me and whacked me on the arm with her paw. Claws in. The adoption coordinator was horrified. I laughed and told Samirah, “Doesn’t matter, you’re still coming home with me.”

    I totally agree with you, owners have to have patience and try to put themselves in the cat’s place, try to see the world from their POV. Their view really isn’t that different from ours.


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