Animal Euthanasia

Our dog died today.

Not from natural causes. She had reached the age of 15, old for a large dog (golden retriever), and for the last few months had obvious hip problems, mobility trouble. My parents tell me she had trouble eating the last few weeks, after I went back for college, and that she was whimpering and yelping a little in her sleep.

Today, they took her in to the vet’s office, and decided to put her down. They killed our dog. That’s what it is, no matter how you wanna dress it up. Our dog was killed by an affirmative act, against nature.

Usually, I don’t credit animals as being morally considerable. Lacking future-oriented mental states, their cannot actually give value to their continued existences, thus are morally considerable only to the possible extent that they do feel pain and thus value it’s absence.

But some animals, supposedly apes, dogs and dolphins among them, are said to exhibit some behaviours indicative of future-oriented mental states, of a self-concept. Is it right to make that choice for them? Hell, we don’t let human beings voluntarily make that choice, at least not with MD assistance (and rightly so, IMHO.)

My dad told me that when he was in college, he had a dog who was very sick of heart-worms, back before that was curable/preventable with a simple pill like it is today. At the vet’s he simply couldn’t bring himself to have the dog put down. The dog died that night anyways, and probably with more pain. That’s why my parents made the choice they did. But that dog of my fathers all those years ago died like nature intended. Our dog today was killed by human action.

Personally, I do not believe in euthanasia for the higher animals just as I do not believe in it for humans. But putting humans aside, what do you folks think about animal euthanasia?

My first thought about this was to say that its not very often that I’d feel its justified, but I thought about my experiences with it and changed my mind. Just recently here my sister got a puppy for her son, and the dog began having absolutely horrifying seizures (seriously, indescribable), I can’t recall the disease, but it would’ve killed the dog eventually, after a short life of pain and seizures, and I’d say that was justified. Her ex-husband had a dog that was very old, and had terrible hip problems, caused by arthritis, the dog would often spend all night making constant otherworldly howl/whines of pain, they wound up putting her down after a month, because it would’ve only gotten worse. That I would say was justified, but harder to accept.

So, I think that if letting the animal live is equivalent to just torture, then yeah its justified. Other than that, well, I can’t think of anything, but I’m sure there must be something else that would justify it, and I really want to stop saying justify/justified.

I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why anyone would want to cause a suffering animal to suffer even longer. Becase its “natural” is a whole load of crap, and rather meaningless really.

Yes, your dog was killed by human action. There is no denying that, but killing is not alwase a bad thing. Would you rather your beloved pet suffer needlessly and live a tortured and painfull existance? Why? It seems needlessly cruel to me when you can painlessly and quickly end its suffering. Its not the ideal solution, but in some situations it is the nicest thing you can do for them.

I’m sure my wife (CrazyCatLady) will be along soon enough with her thoughts. (Medical and veterinary ethics are our idea of dinner conversation. No wonder we’re not very popular.)

If you think about it, we’re already bucking nature by domesticating the animals in the first place. We buck it again by spaying or neutering them, daily by giving them bowls of processed food, and again in countless ways throughout their lives. To let nature take over at the very end seems like shirking the responsibility we’ve had for their lives since the beginning.

I think euthenasia is absolutely the right thing to do when an animal is suffering. I think that animals, in some ways, are more susceptible to suffering than humans are, because they don’t have quite the same developed sense of the past and the future. That means they are more focused on their present, and if their present is nothing but suffering, it’s inhumane to allow it to continue.

Just because it’s the right thing to do, though, doesn’t mean that I would be able to do it easily for any of my pets.

Dr. J

Being that this is the SDMB, can we ask for a cite here? Because I’ve only heard that about dolphins, and the studies were pretty inconclusive and non-replicable, as I recall.

And I, personally, believe in it for both.

There is no way I would let a beloved pet of mine continue to suffer, so I have held them in my arms while our vet put them to sleep. And I have supported “death with dignity” laws that allow humans with terminal illness to end their own life when they desire it. Heck, 30 years ago, I helped my aged Grandmother organize a family conference where she laid down the law to her children about this: “I’m an old woman, and before too long, God will call me back to him. And I don’t want any of you children, or any doctors, standing in the way when I get called!”

I come from a dog family so I think I know where you are coming from. You have my sympathy - it’s never easy to let them go but I think your parents did the right thing but maybe for different reasons than cited thus far.

Dogs are pack-animals by nature, and from your dogs perspective one of your parents is the pack leader that the others defer to so it would make sense for even decisions of life and death will be taken by the pack leader. I don’t think a sense of self comes into it with pack animals and they have no individual rights from their perspective, only what is “best” for the pack.

Getting to age 15 is not natural - it is only through a good diet than does not have to be run down, vetinary care and attention, somewhere warm and protected to sleep that your dog could have reached that age. All that activity represents human intervention. In nature a natural lifespan would have been more like 6 years I suspect.

I rationalise things that if your love and attention got your pet to the age it reached, you took responsibility for it. Now where it is in pain and suffering I think it only right to take responsibility for the difficult decision that enough is enough and intervene once more.

Natural has been made redundant IMHO by the act of having a pet in the first place, the flip side is taken responsibility for it. And that means in the difficult time with unpleasant decisions, not just during all the nice companionable times.

It seems to me that your parents lived up to their responsibilitiies for the dogs welfare. We let only one much loved bitch go on and on beyond what was kind and greatly regretted it in retrospect. We let her down and she sufferred needlessly and she died alone in the night in the end and not with her owner stroking her to sleep as should have happened.

If you cannot handle the end I would recommend having a goldfish or a budgie rather than a dog.

I’m sorry if this comes over as being blunt but I feel strongly it is a mistake to overly humanise animals let alone pets.

An interesting question, but it brings up a pet peeve of mine.

Humans are not fundamentally different from animals. We are animals. The question of whether it is “morally right” to kill is a human construction, as is the belief that we are more “intelligent” and therefore more precious than members of other species. Now, no, other species do not deserve the same rights we assign ouselves, but we have chosen to be more kind in our killing than most. As an example, wolves find nothing immoral about ripping out the stomach of some peaceful ruminant, but it is the worse kind of hubris to believe they don’t have their own lupine morality. As to intelligence, squid are amazingly intelligent - but the intelligence is so alien from humans that I have no problems eating calamari.

More to the point, RexDart’s question isn’t really about the preciousness of diiferent species. It’s about pets. Is it morally right to kill a family member with a terminal disease? The twist here is that the family member can’t communicate his or her wishes. Vegetative humans are a good comparison, and that is the question that needs to be answered first. Is it right to put down humans that can’t communicate their wishes? When do you pull the plug on a human?

Dogs don’t have the oposable thumbs to create a living will, but they know what they want. I have had several dogs in my life, and one in particular wanted to die. She was very old, and after the first stroke she started to try to leave; to go into the woods to die. I always found her, I wouldn’t let her go. Till finally, she did die… Not in the woods, but on the table at the vet.

I don’t think that was what she wanted.

I’d suspect it would vary from species to species. But more disconcertingly, I also suspect that it varies from individual to individual. Spot may want to chase greener pastures, but maybe Rover wants to draw a few more breaths. How do you tell the difference? Again, it’s the old moral question of human euthanasia (should we make him live in spite of himself? Should we help him die?) compunded with a difficulty in communication.

The question of whether to put an animal down must be decided on a case by case basis. It should be up to the animal’s morality, but the animal ain’t talking.

Pigs are the equal of dogs in terms of observable brain function.

Hands up who likes bacon.

I like bacon. I prefer my meat sentient - it fries up nice.

Somebody please remove the firearm from that simian’s grasp. He’s keeps looking at me funny.

True, but your dog was only alive by an affirmative act against nature, too. Your family took care of her when she lost her mobility, feeding her and sheltering her and cleaning up after her. In the wild, she would have died long previously.

I tihnk you’re incorrect here. There’s plenty of evidence that animals can have future-oriented mental states. I refer people who make this argument to the book Rattling the Cage by Steven Wise.

Unless you’re vegetarian, your question is motivated by sentiment and not reason here, I think. We obviously make that choice all the time for cows and pigs. Except that what we do to such animals scarcely qualifies as euthanasia.

I’m sorry to hear about your dog; watching a beloved animal grow old and suffer is very difficult. But consider that not even all humans regard life as a marathon, in which you win by living for the longest possible time. Your dog is incapable of making that choice, but if it could, it’s quite likely it would choose not to continue a life consisting primarily of suffering.


My parents were once in the position of either watching their golden, Casey, more or less suffocate due to cancer that had spread wildly, or having her euthanized. I can’t imagine being cruel enough to let a dog suffer like that. After she was diagnosed she was spoiled rotten for several months, but then she started having breathing problems, and that was it, so they took her in.

I wouldn’t have taken a dog in for the reasons your parents did, unless it turns out the dog was sicker than it sounds from your OP. However, it could well be that she WAS sicker than it sounds, or would have gotten that way very quickly; fifteen is quite elderly for a golden.

I wouldn’t want to watch a human die the way she would have, either. I am all for human euthanasia as well, though I do think it should be veeery carefully handled.

“She” was our doggie, not yours. Trust me, it’d have been awful. Poor sweet girl.

They way I look at it is that death is the common factor in either case, so it can be removed from the analysis. What is different is the mode of death: natural versus willfully induced. But these are not comparable. The other difference is that one involves suffering and the other does not. I feel that it is preferable to minimize suffering, other things being equal. I’m pro-death in that sense, animal vegetable or mineral for that matter. Human or pet. If death is on the doorstep, does it really matter who knocks? Well, to me it does matter, if we can reduce the time spent in pain.

As an additon, often this decision is made by factoring in an economic component. Is it ever worth it to perform major surgery on a dog? Is there a “line” beyond which we are not responsible for our pets?

I have known and loved many animals in my life, but an animal that is costing me a significant amount of money will likely not be around too long. Suffering is certainly a factor but I’d be suprised if financial considerations didn’t affect most decisions to euthanize animals.

If I am ever in as much untreatable pain, I would hope that my family would show me the same love your parents showed for your dog. It is a good, compassionate thing they did; the irony is we don’t extend to our own families the humanity we show to our pets.

I knew a horse who was lucky enough to live a long life (horsey wise) wander around happily for the end of his years, and finally pass away one night. If there is an ideal death, he had it.

I knew another horse who got tangled in barbwire. She flipped over a fence, got the wire wrapped around her leg, and basically severed everything except the bone. I found her, while she was still struggling. With help, I got her free, and she bled so much in a few minutes that my jeans and sneakers were entirely soaked in her blood. She was put down. I suppose we could have left, and let her bleed to death. I suppose that by the OP, it would have been the more humane thing to do. But by the pain she had already suffered, I was glad to free her of it. I simply could not watch her slowly die that way. Whether or not she would have chosen it I’ll never know, but if I was her, I would rather die fast than die slow.

Recently, my grandmother died. In her last few weeks, she lost every right ever afforded to her. She could not feed herself, clean herself, use a bathroom, or move at all really. She could not discern reality from not. I would rather be put down than die a slow death like that. To me, being given the choice of a quick, painless death is a right that should be afforded to humans, but is sadly not. It’s how I would rather go.

Euthanasia for everyone.

“Dogs lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
Agnes Turnbull

RexDart, I’m sorry about your dog. Our family dog was put down about 4 years ago, and I still miss her.

Euthanasia can be a blessing. As a pet owner, you assume the moral responsibility to make humane choices for your pets. In many cases, euthanasia is the humane choice.

And as others have said, if I’m ever in a position where I’m in constant pain and no longer know myself, I hope that someone would have the humanity to ease me into death gently.

I grew up with four dogs; all but one were euthanized when their quality of life became compromised. The last one is still alive; he’ll be 19 next week. It wasn’t an easy decision to make for any of them, but I feel that when you take on the responsibility of raising and caring for a pet, you need to accept that those sorts of ethical decisions will ultimately arise during your pet’s life. My father was there with each dog when the vet euthanized them, holding them and waiting for their hearts to stop beating. There are certainly worse ways to go.