Almost all companion animal vets have been asked to euthanise healthy pets, with half (53%) saying this was not a rare occurrence and 98% of those who had been asked to euthanise a healthy pet citing the owner’s reason as their pet’s behaviour, reveal figures released today by the British Veterinary Association (BVA).
Problem behaviours vets can see include persistent barking and howling, destructive chewing and inappropriate toileting. Aggressive behaviour, towards both people and other pets, is also a problem, with the PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report revealing that a third of pet owners have been attacked or bitten by a dog. Such behaviours can cause a breakdown of the human-animal bond, leading to pets being excluded from family life to the detriment of their welfare, relinquished to rehoming centres or euthanised.
The figures, obtained during BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey, which polled over 700 vets across the UK, also highlight the burden that is placed on vets every day when they are faced with euthanising healthy animals.
BVA says that these figures overwhelmingly show the importance of adequate socialisation of animals at an early age – young animals should safely encounter a variety of people, animals and everyday household sights and sounds in their first few weeks and months of age, beginning at the place where they are born. Many veterinary practices now offer puppy socialisation classes to help with this.
British Veterinary Association President Sean Wensley said: “These figures are stark and are likely to come as a shock to members of the public. But this is the sad reality of a failure to socialise animals from the earliest possible age – a specific time in a puppy’s development which has a significant impact on their future temperament and behaviour. With dogs, this process starts from before a puppy is even seen by a potential owner.
“In recent months there has been a litany of news stories about the illegal importation, breeding and trading of puppies through puppy farms. This is no way for a family pet to start life and we urge potential owners to thoroughly research where a puppy has been born and reared, using the AWF/RSPCA Puppy contract to help.
“Then, in the first year of ownership, and especially in the first few weeks, work with your local veterinary practice to ensure your puppy is introduced to everyday sights and sounds, including other people and animals, in a safe and structured way.”
Mr Wensley also commented on the impact on vets: “Nobody enters the veterinary profession wanting to euthanise healthy pets, but this is the stressful situation that many vets are facing because of undesirable behaviours in pet animals.
“Vets will do all they can in these situations to avoid euthanasia, including offering evidence-based behavioural advice, referring to accredited pet behaviourists or assisting with rehoming through reputable rehoming organisations, but sometimes these options are not appropriate, particularly where the behavioural issues make it extremely difficult to rehome the animal.
“Vets are not required to euthanise healthy animals at an owner’s request, but sometimes, having carefully considered all options and given the circumstances the pet finds themselves in, it may be in an animal’s best interests to do so. Euthanising an animal who could have been a loving pet is the hidden, tragic cost of poor socialisation.”
Owners often offered a number of reasons when requesting euthanasia for their healthy pet, with surveyed vets saying that some of the most common reasons they were given included poor health of the owner (48%), owners moving to accommodation that is unsuitable for their pet (39%), and legal enforcement reasons (32%).