Report Highlights. “Euthanasia” comes from the Greek euthanatos, which means “easy death.” Euthanasia does not refer to pest control or animals slaughtered for food; it specifically refers to an induced death, usually for animals that are terminally ill and suffering. This is not the only reason an animal may be euthanized, however; in animal shelters, overpopulation and lack of available resources are other common reasons for euthanasia.

  • 4,000+ animals are euthanized every day in the United States alone.
  • 25% of animals entering shelters are confirmed euthanized.
  • Americans pay $1.5 billion each year for animal control, including euthanasia.
  • Each year, fewer animals are euthanized, and the rate of euthanasia among shelter animals is in decline.
  • 9 out of 10 euthanized animals are adoptable, with no painful or life-threatening conditions.

Facts and Statistics About Euthanasia

There is little raw data on euthanasia in the United States because there is no national reporting system in place among animal rescue and control groups. Only a few states require shelters to keep records about the number of animals they euthanize; certain organizations, such as research laboratories, are not legally required to keep records of most of the animals they euthanize.

  • The high-end estimate is that 100 million animals are euthanized every year regardless of legality; more conservative estimates are between 11 and 25 million.
  • 75% of people surveyed say it should be illegal to euthanize healthy animals.
  • Almost 90% of people surveyed believe euthanasia rates are less than half of what they actually are.
  • Common euphemisms for euthanasia are “put to sleep” and “put down.”
  • California overtook Texas last year as the U.S. state with the highest rate of euthanasia.
  • 5 states are responsible for 51.5% of all animal euthanizations.
Animals EuthanizedShare of National Total
California100,00016%
Texas96,70015.5%
North Carolina47,7007.6%
Florida45,5007.3%
Louisiana32,2005.2%

Shelter Euthanasia in Decline

The last major nationwide study on the subject of euthanasia in animal shelters was completed in 1997 by the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy. Most available data comes from individual shelters or rescue systems. Total estimates, conflicting though they are, reflect a declining trend in euthanizations; the percentage of animals euthanized is also declining, albeit at a slower rate.

  • In 1970, 15 million shelter animals were euthanized.
  • In 1997 9.5 million shelter animals were confirmed euthanized.
    • 71% of shelter cats were euthanized.
    • 56% of shelter dogs were euthanized.
    • 2,700 animals were euthanized per shelter.
  • In 2011, 2.6 million shelter animals were euthanized.
  • In 2019, 1.4 million shelter animals were euthanized.
  • In the last 20 years, incidents of euthanasia in shelters diminished by 66%.
    • Between 1989 and 2010, canine euthanasia in the Denver Metro (pop. 4M) decreased by 77%; between 1989 and 2000, feline euthanasia decreased by 82%.
    • In just two years (2017-2019) Franklin County, Ohio (pop. 1.6M) reduced euthanizations by 20%.
    • In 1997, Chicago, Illinois euthanized 83% of animals entering their shelter system; in 2017, 24% of the city’s shelter animals were euthanized.

High-Risk Shelter Animals

Some types of animals are more likely to face euthanasia because of their breed. Pit bulls, for example, have a poor public image and are viewed as inherently vicious. Greyhounds, on the other hand, are often bred for racing; once they are “retired,” many become homeless.

  • As many as 57% of euthanized animals are unweaned kittens.
  • Los Angeles Animal Services decreased euthanizations by half between 2012 and 2014 after starting a kitten nursery; the county’s average euthanasia rate is now 34%.
  • 90% of homeless dogs are pit bulls.
  • 35% of animal shelters report taking in an average of one-or-more pit bulls each day; 93% of these dogs are euthanized.
  • A greyhound’s racing career lasts an average of 2-3 years barring injury.
  • If no suitable home can be found for the greyhound after its retirement, it’s often euthanized.
  • Over 1,350,000 racing greyhounds have been euthanized since the sport’s inception.
  • Special needs animals are sometimes euthanized due to lack of funds for their care; specialty animal shelters have taken in and cared for these animals specifically for over 40 years.
  • Reasons for Animal Euthanasia

    Veterinarians and technicians report dozens of varying reasons for euthanasia. The Veterinarian’s Oath includes the promise to always act in an animal’s welfare and to relieve pain and suffering. Unfortunately, many animals are put down because they have nowhere to go.

    • Many states have laws requiring euthanasia of animals that have severely injured or killed human beings.
    • Disasters may boost euthanasia numbers; 15,000 pets were left behind when New Orleans was evacuated during Hurricane Katrina.
    • “Economic euthanasia” refers to euthanasia that’s the result of a lack of funds; the cost of hip surgery for a Border Collie exceeds $40,000.
    • An estimated 500,000 animals fall victim to economic euthanasia each year.
    • Veterinarians estimate incidents of economic euthanasia are on the rise, increasing 10-12% each year.
    • Overpopulation in shelters means more animals are euthanized so other animals in need aren’t turned away.
    • Veterinarians use the term “convenience euthanasia” to describe owners who no longer want to keep the animal and ask to have their healthy pet euthanized.

    Euthanasia in Science and Research Laboratories

    Research laboratories are not required to report euthanasia of certain species that are not protected by animal rights laws that specify speed and painlessness as requisites for euthanasia. Most lab animals are unprotected. experimental endpoints often require euthanization of the animals in order to study or collect tissue samples.

    • 80-95% of lab animals are not protected by animals rights laws, including those that regulate euthanasia.
    • An unknown number of research animals are euthanaized for no other reason than the laboratory has no more use for them.
    • The Institute for Laboratory Animal Research (ILAR) under the National Academy of Sciences – which accredits laboratories – provides some procedural guidelines for euthanasia.
      • Labs should adheres to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) stipulations for performing euthanasia.
      • Incidents of euthanasia should follow a harm-benefit analysis.
      • Specimens that pose a threat to researchers may be euthanized using any means available.
      • Universal regulations regarding euthanasia of invertebrates or wild animals in field research are unnecessary; this includes embryonated eggs.
      • Euthanasia may be justified if housing the animals becomes an issue.

    Methods of Euthanasia

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine specifies that that euthanasia must be painless. Most states have legislation regulating who may legally perform euthanasia; typically, only veterinarians or specially licensed technicians are authorized to perform such a procedure. Common methods of euthanasia include gassing, injection, and poisoning.

    • The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends injection – of sodium phenobarbital, specifically – as the fastest, most reliable, and painless method of animal euthanasia.
      • Barbiturates (such as phenobarbital) have a calming effect that accompanies the eventual loss of consciousness followed by death. These drugs are highly regulated, and some may be difficult to obtain.
      • Ultrapotent opioids are 10,000 times more potent than standard morphine, and again, usually relax muscles. These substances, however, are typically illegal or otherwise difficult to obtain.
      • Alcohols cause death by suppressing the nervous and respiratory systems. They are also mixed with other chemicals to create emulsions for euthanizing aquatic animals.
    • Few gasses are considered acceptable inhalants for euthanasia. Gassing itself is not recommended as means of euthanasia, but may be the most humane option available under some circumstances.
      • Carbon monoxide offers a relatively fast and painless death but can be difficult to administer while maintaining personnel safety. For this reason, it has been outlawed in 19 states.
      • Carbon dioxide must be administered gradually to reduce pain. It can be unreliable across and even within species. Some smaller animals have a high tolerance for this substance.
      • Nitrogen and Argon are both odorless, tasteless, inert, and nonexplosive gasses. If administered incorrectly, however, they may induce rapid breathing, discomfort and distress.
    • Topical and oral administration are the least reliable, least preferred methods of animal euthanasia.
    • Physical methods are highly effective, but the AVMA notes these means may be insurmountably unpleasant for personnel.

    Unacceptable Agents

    Any method of euthanasia that causes unnecessary pain or distress is considered unacceptable by veterinarians and animal shelters alike. Many drugs or poisons that have been traditionally used to euthanize animals are among these unacceptable agents. Illegal operations, like dogfighting rings and unregistered puppy mills, still make use of these methods regularly:

    • Strychnine
    • Nicotine
    • Insulin
    • Caffeine
    • Cleaning products
    • Solvents
    • Pesticides
    • Disinfectants
    • Magnesium sulfate
    • Potassium chloride
    • Neuromuscular blocking agents

    Illegal Euthanasia

    Statistics about illegal euthanasia are difficult to pin down for obvious reasons: most criminal operations want to avoid leaving a paper trail, so they don’t keep records. Many of the methods they use to euthanize animals violate animal welfare laws.

    • The word “euthanasia” does not appear anywhere in the text of the original Animal Welfare Act (AWA) of 1966.
    • Euthanasia is first mentioned in the AWA’s third ammendment (1985).
    • Drowning animals by tying them into sacks has been a common method for disposing of unwanted litters for centuries.
    • An estimated 7,000+ illegal puppy mills in the U.S. may have millions of dogs unaccounted for.
    • Illegal puppy mills often eliminate ill or unwanted dogs using inhumane methods.
    • 14 U.S. states have laws restricting animal euthanasia methods to lethal injection.

    International Euthanasia Laws

    Different cultures have different attitudes toward certain animals or toward animals in general. For example, Americans keep guinea pigs as pets; in Peru, however, guinea pig is a favorite entree.

  • In 1687, Japan passed one of the earliest animal rights laws, which prohibited the killing of any animal.
  • In 2003, Costa Rica banned animal euthanasia as a method of population control, the first country in the Americas to do so.
  • The United Kingdom has the strictist animal rights laws in the world, punishing unauthorized euthanasia with a hefty fine, jail time, and a lifetime ban from animal ownership.
  • 32 countries legally recognize animals as sentient beings and protect them from unnecessary euthanasia.
  • 12 countries have no animal rights laws at all.
  • Euthanasia at No-Kill Shelters

    The concept of the no-kill shelter in the U.S. originates in 1984 when an anomalous spike in national shelter populations meant an estimated 17 million animals had to be euthanized in various facilities across the country. That year, the first no-kill animal sanctuary broke ground in Utah.

    • Any animal shelter or rescue with a live release rate of at least 90% may legally be designated a “no-kill” entity.
    • A no-kill shelter may euthanize up to 10% of its population and maintain its no-kill status.
    • San Francisco became the first no-kill city in 1994.
    • In 2019, Delaware became the first no-kill state.
    • The world’s oldest no-kill shelters are in India.

    General Statistics About Euthanasia in Animal Shelters

    The decline in euthanasia can be at least partially attributed to a reduction in shelter intake overall; smaller shelter populations mean fewer animals need volunteer attention, space to live and sleep, and medical care.

    • Animal shelters euthanize 4,121 animals every day.
    • Pit bulls have the highest shelter euthanasia rate at 93%.
    • 35 states have laws about how long a shelter must hold an animal before authorizing euthanasia.
    • In states with such laws, minimum holding periods range from 48 hours to 10 days.
    • It’s estimated that 90-99% of euthanized animals are adoptable.
    • The average cost to capture, hold, and euthanize a stray animal is $100.

    Sources:

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