This shouldn’t be a taboo subject. But I find myself – even just writing a blog post about behavioral euthanasia – wondering if people are going to judge me. I worry someone is going to tell me I’m a bad person for saying that occasionally, some truly wonderful and beloved dogs – and cats – need to be euthanized for aggression.

But the fact is that sometimes euthanasia is the right decision for a pet we love very much because they have become a danger to humans, other animals, or themselves.

If you have reached this page, I suspect you have been agonizing over this subject. I’m here to tell you you are not alone, and you are not a bad person for having these thoughts.

This blog post mostly discusses dogs but pertains to cats as well.

There is a lot of misinformation about dog training, behavior, and aggression. You may have had friends or family tell you that this would never have happened if only you had used a different training method. You may have seen TV dog trainers claim that you’d never be in this situation if you’d only used their method.

That is simply not true. Some dogs are hard-wired to be aggressive or anxious, and others may have had some genetic potential for it, which is brought out through trauma they experienced.

ALL of my behavioral euthanasia clients have been THE BEST owners. I have watched them send their dogs to trainer after trainer and guru after guru, claiming that for $10,000, they can fix their dog. But they were sold false hope. These dogs did not improve with training. Many actually became worse.

These intractable cases of aggression are not a training issue. These pets have a brain disease. There are just some dogs that start biting, and it only seems to get worse over time despite everyone’s best efforts.

So that’s my soapbox. You are not a bad person, and your dog is not a bad dog, either. They’re really good dogs stuck with some bad wiring in their brains.

What is behavioral euthanasia?

Behavioral euthanasia is the decision to peacefully end a pet’s life due to aggression that is putting humans or other animals in danger. Behavioral euthanasia is typically NOT for pets exhibiting non-aggressive behavioral issues such as barking, leash pulling, chewing, etc. If these behaviors become a problem, pets can often be successfully trained or rehomed.

What should I do before considering behavioral euthanasia?

Many things can be tried with pets exhibiting aggression if it is safe to do so:

  • Look for underlying medical issues: Occasionally, pets, especially older pets, may start exhibiting aggression because they are in pain. Hormonal issues can also cause aggression. I recommend having a thorough evaluation with an experienced veterinarian to determine if underlying health issues need to be addressed.
  • Desensitization and counterconditioning: These training methods are designed to change a dog’s emotional response to a stimulus. Desensitization involves gradually exposing an animal to a stimulus that causes a negative emotional response, and counterconditioning involves pairing the stimulus with something positive to replace the negative response.
    • This is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in many cases of aggression, and I highly recommend working with a veterinary behaviorist if you are going to attempt these methods.
  • Avoiding triggers: when we can identify specific triggers leading to aggression, sometimes we can simply avoid them.
    • One example is dogs with food aggression. The best treatment for food aggression is to leave a dog alone or crate the dog while it is eating. This almost always solves the problem.
    • Another example is dogs that are aggressive towards other dogs. My own dog had this problem, and the solution was to keep her away from other dogs at all times.
  • Working with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist
    • If you are dealing with aggression, I highly recommend working with a veterinary behaviorist who will use a combination of the above techniques and medications to ameliorate the behavior.
    • A good veterinary behaviorist will also be realistic with you about expectations (i.e., you are not likely to CURE your dog, only MANAGE the aggression) and if they think euthanasia may be the most humane solution.
  • Rehoming the pet
    • Sometimes, if a pet has a specific trigger, it can be rehomed to avoid this trigger. For example, a pet that is anxious around children can be rehomed to a home without children.
    • However, in many cases, this is just kicking the can down the road. I’ve had several patients who were rehomed multiple times, and each time they were rehomed, their aggression became worse, and more people were bitten.
    • In many cases, humane euthanasia is a kinder solution for the pet than rehoming.

What happens if I choose behavioral euthanasia?

The process starts with a teleconsult with one of our compassionate and experienced veterinarians. The goal of the teleconsult is twofold:

(1) to discuss the case and make sure everyone is comfortable with this plan

(2) to make a plan for the euthanasia appointment. My goals for the euthanasia appointment are to make it peaceful and easy for the pet and to make sure everyone is safe.

Every plan differs depending on the pet’s temperament and triggers. Still, I usually give the pet a delicious meal mixed with oral medications that cause them to fall asleep while their loving family surrounds them. Because the medications are oral and higher doses are required, the process typically takes longer than most other types of euthanasia.

Prior to performing euthanasia, it is important to verify that the pet has not bitten anyone within ten days of the appointment or that rabies testing is required by law (even if the pet has been vaccinated against rabies).

Honoring their memory

Following euthanasia, we typically make a beautiful clay paw print to honor your pet. We can also handle the aftercare if you wish to have your pet cremated. Cremation comes in two types: private, where you get the ashes back in a beautiful urn, or communal, where you do not get the ashes back.

Although you are feeling terrible now, as best as we can, we want to honor the beautiful memories and the joy our pets brought into our lives and remember them for the happiness they brought us rather than their behavioral struggles. Remember: you made this choice out of love, driven by a desire to prevent suffering and ensure safety.

Processing your grief

The grief can be particularly overwhelming in cases of behavioral euthanasia sometimes. On the other hand, some clients feel an immense sense of relief when their pet and their family – who have been dealing with crippling anxiety – suddenly feel peace. I highly recommend Losing Lulu (, an online community dedicated to supporting people who have lost a pet to behavioral euthanasia.

If you are in this difficult position, you can find more information here: