By: Stephanie Belak LSW, MSW
From providing us unconditional love, to a daily routine and responsibility, the animal-human bond has developed into a beautiful relationship. Many may say that a pet “..just doesn’t live long enough”; this comment is one I most definitely agree with. The passing of a pet, typically due to the end stages of a terminal illness, complications with old age, or a decrease in general quality of life due to trauma, is one of the most difficult decisions a pet parent will have to face during their caregiving journey. Another factor that yields the end result of euthanasia is behavior. Behavioral euthanasia is least likely to be spoken about, as this sensitive topic may sometimes be stigmatized or generate biased and uneducated opinions. When considering euthanasia based on behavioral factors, it is important for the pet parent to educate one’s self on the appropriate steps that lead to this difficult decision. This will ultimately create a path of least regrets.
Educate Oneself *ADD REHOMING**
A general assessment of the problematic behavior is imperative. Questions to ask include:
- Is your pet dominant, possessive, anxious, afraid, or aggressive?
- What leads to this behavior?
- Does it only happen in certain situations or locations?
- When this behavior is presented, can I control it?
Assessing your pet’s background and breeding is an important aspect to evaluate. A pet that experienced a lifetime of abuse and neglect may be more prone to exhibiting a behavioral problem. Behaviors may have been taught or learned as a means of survival, and permanently engrained within their functioning system. Also, a pet could experience a general chemical brain imbalance that produces negative and problematic behaviors. In my opinion this is defined as “the mentally ill pet”. This could be due to poor breeding or congenital reasons.
Knowing who to consult with and what directions to take will ultimately make a behavioral euthanasia an educated and appropriate decision. Consulting with a trusted veterinarian is an advised first step. This will allow your pet to be evaluated based on veterinary diagnostics and criteria. Seeking advice from a licensed and experienced trainer, or board-certified behaviorist is also recommended, as they will thoroughly assess your pet’s problematic behavior(s) and provide educated opinions and treatment routes. Once your pet has been evaluated by the appropriate professionals, it is important to follow through with their recommendations. Behavioral modification, medications, or a more intensive training regimen may be recommended. After consulting with a professional, personal research may provide additional assistance in educating oneself prior making a behavioral euthanasia decision. Evidence based articles and veterinary studies found on the internet or an empirical library system will provide a pet parent with a basic knowledge of their pet’s behaviors. Also, when appropriate, a pet parent may need to consider possibly rehoming their pet. It is important to know that there is a possibility you and your pet are simply not a “good match”. Some pets need specific living arrangements, such as a home with one adult, a home with no children, or a home with no other pets. Problematic behaviors may lessen or even increase when there is a change in living environment.
Consider Quality of Life- Both you and your pet’s
It is imperative to evaluate both you and your pet’s quality of life, as this is an important factor to consider when making your decision. Quality of life for your pet can be based on psychological, behavioral, and social factors. Psychological factors can include levels of anxiety, dominance, and fear. A pet who is living with continuous anxiety, dominance, and fear may not have a good quality of life, as these heightened psychological factors, when deemed untreatable, yield an eternal life of stress and uncertainty. Behavioral factors will also come into play when assessing a pet’s quality of life. A pet who is continuously experiencing anxiety or fear ridden behaviors, such as shaking, panting, self-mutilation, or restlessness is not living a good quality of life. Social factors, such as engaging with animals or people, going for walks, or going for outings to a park are also factors to assess when questioning your pet’s quality of life. Keep in mind, if a pet is continuously confined and neglected basic socialization, quality of life may be deemed minimal.
Also, quality of life for you, the caregiver, is a very important point to examine when justifying a behavioral euthanasia. It is important to recognize if your life is being negatively impacted by your behaviorally challenged pet. If you are constantly living in fear of your pet, or cannot leave your home because your pet is suffering from extreme separation anxiety, your quality of life is being negatively affected. If you cannot have visitors because of your pet’s aggressive, compulsive, or anxious behaviors, your quality of life is being affected. Lastly and most importantly, if you feel unsafe around your pet, this is a troubling situation. It is important that you take care of yourself. Although you may love your pet and will try anything to help rehabilitate them, it is important to remain true to one’s self and remember that self-care and human quality of life prevails.
After the Loss
When a pet caregiver has decided to perform a behavior-based euthanasia, it is important that they obtain appropriate support. This decision may be one of the most difficult decisions you have had to make as a pet parent; your grief journey may be excruciating at times. Seeking support from friends and family is always advised, as long as they can provide the necessary empathy and compassion. Additional support from family practitioners or psychotherapists may also be necessary to aid in coping with difficult emotions. Also, seeking support from Day By Day Pet Caregiver support is recommended, as we offer a 24/7 hotline, weekly online chats, in person support, weekly check-in calls, and provide others with a network of individuals who understand your pain. You are not alone.
This article has been written in honor of “Bronx”. May he rest in peace.