The American Animal Hospital Association believes that, ideally, no adoptable animal should be euthanized.
AAHA is committed to working collaboratively to reduce the millions of animals euthanized annually.
The role of veterinarians
Unfortunately, the number of homeless animals currently exceeds the number of responsible people willing to adopt them. Veterinarians have an integral role and a responsibility in our society to contribute to the solutions of these overpopulation issues by:
- Reducing unwanted litters by participating in and offering readily accessible and affordable sterilization programs and educating clients on responsible breeding
- Reducing relinquishment of companion animals by educating clients on responsible pet ownership and behavior issues and promoting preventive medical care, compatible animal selection, and the benefit of the attachment clients share with their companion animals
- Recommending identification of animals in order to reunite lost animals with their owners, as well as promoting responsible control of animals with licensing, leashing, and confinement to prevent loss, injury, and disease
- Working within their communities to find options for homeless adoptable animals and encouraging clients to adopt from and support their local shelters
- Working with owners facing financial challenges by offering various treatment options before euthanasia is considered
- Supporting pet-friendly legislation, such as pet-friendly housing, to increase opportunities for pet ownership
Humane euthanasia requires expertise in technique and compassion for all parties involved, with the goal of a dignified, anxiety-free, and painless death. Injection by sodium pentobarbital is considered the only acceptable method for most companion animals. Premedication should be considered to reduce fear, anxiety, and restraint requirements that can occur with the euthanasia procedure. In accordance with AVMA guidelines for humane euthanasia, intracardiac injections should not be performed on conscious animals. In the event that animals are euthanized in public agencies, such as pounds or the humane society, AAHA recommends that veterinarians are consulted on this procedure so that only trained personnel using proper techniques and drugs are allowed to carry this procedure out. Many of these drugs are controlled and legislative rules need to be followed. In the event that such public agencies do not have access to properly trained personnel or the proper drugs, veterinarians should be contracted to carry out this procedure in a humane way.
Euthanasia is a stressful, emotional aspect of veterinary practice. The profession should recognize its impact on clients, veterinarians, and practice team members. Euthanasia-related stress can lead to compassion fatigue. Veterinary practices should acknowledge and manage it with well-drafted protocols, formal education processes, and open lines of communication.
The decision to euthanize an animal should not be taken lightly. Veterinarians are encouraged to fully explore the reasons for the euthanasia decision and to discuss viable, realistic alternatives with the owner.
Adopted by the American Animal Hospital Association Board of Directors November 1994. Revised October 2003. Last revised October 2009.