How do we know it's best to put down suffering animals?

Nobody wants to see an injured or sick animal suffer, but how do we know putting them down is more humane? We rarely consider it humane to euthanize humans stricken with life-threatening inuries or diseases. Are we assuming the animal would rather be put out of its misery? How do we know an animal’s suffering outweighs whatever pleasure it still gets out of life? How often are we masking our desire to dispose of the inconvenience of a sick dog with the notion that it’s better for the dog? Is it often, or even usually, just better for the owner?

This is the problem. We still cling to the antiquated idea that somehow a suffering human’s life has more meaning and value than a suffering dog’s life. The dog can’t make the decision, but the human can. We should allow euthanasia of humans if the person has a valid living will or directive to physicians that states this is what they want.

There’s also the complication that humans (to a large, but not universal extent) have the ability to make decisions about suffering for themselves - if you hurt, you get pain medication, or in some areas, can actually take your own life to relieve the pain, or have a medical professional take it for you. We also have an amazing capacity to distract ourselves from pain just by focusing on other things.

Animals don’t have that ability. They can’t say directly that they are in pain or suffering, they can’t think of the past or the future or imaginary places to distract them from the pain, and for some animals, we don’t even have very effective pain-killers developed for them.

So we have to act for them, and most people decide that it is less harmful for an animal to have a peaceful passing than to live with a painful condition. We can’t know, because we’re not the animal, but I would imagine that most people do what they *hope *is the best for their animal. Sadly, monetary considerations DO come into that as well, but that’s unfortunate for everyone involved, not just the animal being put down.
There’s also a difference between something painful and temporary, and something painful and chronic. A human can often be made to understand that certain pains will pass, but no animals that I know of have made that leap. For someone tenderhearted or who has anthropomorphized their animal, having to watch it suffer and being helpless to assist (except through the passage of time) is a very hard thing to do. I wouldn’t judge someone harshly for not being able to handle that, and choosing to put their animal “peacefully to sleep” instead.

All true. But we would rarely put a sick human down if he/she couldn’t communicate that wish… and only in the case of vegetative brain death. If they showed any sign of cognitive life, we wouldn’t consider euthanizing them.

We don’t (and can’t) know what the animals would want (if, indeed, an animal is even capable of conceptualizing a preference to be dead rather than continuing to suffer, which it almost certainly isn’t). We take our best guess about what the animal would want if it was capable of thinking about such things. In such conditions of radical uncertainty, it is not unreasonable to allow considerations of our own convenience to factor in as well as what we guess about the animal’s wishes or welfare.

As far as humans go, I find myself agreeing with Clothahump (possibly a first!).

The fact that we generally don’t do that, does not prove that we never should.

There isn’t really a factual answer to this question. I think most pet owners would agree with you that putting an animal down should be deferred if possible to the point where its suffering outweighs its enjoyment of life, and I think most would agree with you that there’s no objective way to tell when that point is reached.

IME, pet owners generally try to assess the animal’s condition by considering whether it is constantly showing signs of distress, refusing to eat, taking no interest in things it used to enjoy, and so on. Many pet owners will go to a lot of expense and inconvenience to prolong a pet’s life as long as the pet still seems at least somewhat happy.

Most people are aware enough to assist in their own recovery. If you have a broken leg, we put it in a cast and tell you to stay off it. A month or so later, you are walking again.

With animals, however, we cannot expect they will understand the need for restraint or modified behaviour. Some will fight it. A horse in nature MUST walk, to graze and run to escape predators; so it is not mentally equipped to survive a broken leg. (Whereas a cat or dog or wolf may manage to limp from carcass to carcass and scavenge until able to run again). Therefore, it takes extraordinary measures to keep a horse with a broken leg alive, and they may aggravate the situation with struggling. Kinder to kill it.

Similar with household pets with chronic conditions. They are not equipped to enjoy laying in bed, having conversations, watching TV and readng a good book as opposed to wandering around sniffing. They probably do’t appreciate intravenous or throat tube feeding. Most people are not prepared to pay nursing staff to take care of a cat 24-7 and deal with injections. A dog is less likely to understand and appreciate daily needles.

If essentially, you are just going to torture an animal in that way to keep it alive - kill it kindly.

I’ve heard that in hospice situations, it is legal to supply pain killers at doses that will suppress respiration. There is a risk of hastening or precipitating the end, but as long as the purpose of the dose is to relieve pain that can’t be relieved any other way, it’s legal. That’s not putting someone down, but it’s prioritizing relieving suffering over extending life.


About 2 weeks ago we had to put our 7yo great dane down because she developed a wicked fast acting bone cancer. She simply couldn’t understand why her leg hurt and what the problem was, and she certainly didn’t understand that it wasn’t going to get better. We put her down early because we knew that it wasn’t going to get better for her and we would rather her go peacefully early rather than torture her for a couple weeks just so we could pet her a couple times.

I don’t think that premise is correct. There are many who do consider it humane to euthanize humans who have an almost non-existent chance at recovery and have a deteriorating quality of life. The difference between euthanizing a human and an animal is a legal one and not necessarily an ethical one.

If you know and love an animal it is never an easy decision to end their life, you just have to believe that you are doing the right thing.

For owners that don’t really care and just euthanize an animal to be rid of the inconvenience? Better than some of the other options, such as abandoning the animal by the roadside, inept attempts at killing it themselves or neglecting it until it dies on its own.

Yes, how do we know? It is a hard decision and it’s hard to know we’re right.

The conclusion is, we don’t know for sure. We do our best, and hope.

Humans have dealt with animals for millennia, and a convincing case can be made that in certain situations, putting down a suffering animal is the best choice. We do know that they suffer, and we do know that death will relieve the suffering.

What case can be made that keeping them alive, suffering, is the best choice?

A personally theory, but I suspect that the history of anti-euthanasia sentiment is due to legal considerations more than ethical.

If someone is “put down” by their doctor or a family member, how do you prove that this was euthanasia, not murder? Even if you videotape the person explicitly stating that they want this and they sign a document to that effect, how are you to know that it wasn’t coerced or due to someone “preying on a sick and feeble mind who talked him into it”?

There’s also issues of inheritance. If someone had lived a little bit longer, would he have changed his will?

Western culture inherits a lot of legal/moral framework from ancient Judaism. One of the core tenets for rabbinical law at that time - in my opinion - was, “Keep it simple”. It’s easier to simply avoid this sort of confusion than to have thousands of court cases to decide exactly what happened and who gets what. For several things - adultery, homosexuality, polygamy, etc. - we have thousands of years worth of morality built on this basis and that’s a lot of inertia to go back and redo, based on a different set of underlying logic.

The case could be made that suffering animals, like humans, may still get enough enjoyment out of their lives to compensate for their suffering in at least some instances. I don’t pretend to know where the line is, but that’s the case to be made.

My contention was in regard to the actual euthanizations of humans. I’d say, relative to the number of people critically injured or ill, the incidence of human euthanasia or medically assisted in suicide is exceedingly rare.

Okay, I got that from your OP, and I guess I was too subtle. I’m asking you to make the case. What evidence, insight, or argument can you present to advance this viewpoint?

What I’m getting at is that we have longstanding knowledge and understanding that leads almost everyone to agree that killing a suffering animal is the best option. While it’s true that we don’t know with absolute certainty what the animal might be thinking, we (humans in general) haven’t seen anything to persuade us otherwise. What would you offer besides the speculation/question you mentioned to convince folks that keeping them alive is the best option?

There are a lot of pet owners who would want to keep their pet alive for as long as possible. There are others, like me, who don’t want to see an animal suffer and will likely put the animal down sooner rather than later. And in my view, it doesn’t matter whether it’s “best” or not because animals don’t have a soul like humans do and they’re not humans so there’s no ethical concern for me in putting an animal to sleep “too soon” if they’re sick. To me, it is more humane to not let them suffer for any length of time.

This. If I fuck up with Aunt Gladys, then I murdered her. If I did the same for Snuffy the cat, then…I just fucked up. Either way my intentions were good, but with a human, I deprived a person of part of his/her life. With a pet, it was a chattel anyways, and I did my best and did it humanely.