Does the Animal Shelter Put Dogs to Sleep – Why?

Do animal shelters put dogs to sleep?

Yes, unless they are a no-kill shelter, an animal shelter will put dogs to sleep if they are too aggressive, sick, or unadoptable in any other way.

There’s a lot of debate on whether or not animal shelters should euthanize dogs.

Some people believe that it’s an unfortunate but necessary evil, while others think that it should never happen under any circumstances.

Let’s take a closer look at the issue and find out what happens behind the scenes.

Why Do Dogs Need to Be Put to Sleep?

If a dog is aggressive, a shelter may put it down to protect people and other animals.
If a dog is aggressive or ill, a shelter will put it down to protect people and other animals or end the suffering of the dog.

There are a variety of reasons why dogs may need to be put to sleep, also known as euthanized.

One reason is if the dog is suffering from a terminal illness and is in pain.

In that case, the dog may be too weak to stand or move around and maybe lose weight even though it is eating.

Another reason why a dog may need to be put down is if it’s aggressive and has attacked people or other animals.

If the dog has bitten someone, it may need to be euthanized to protect the safety of others.

Finally, sometimes dogs are put to sleep because their owners can no longer take care of them, and they’re unadoptable.

This may be because the owner is moving to a new home that does not allow pets, or because the owner can no longer afford to care for the dog.

Whatever the reason, putting a dog down is a difficult decision that should never be made lightly.

Read More: How Long Does a Shelter Keep a Dog? Before they’re put up for adoption? Before they’re euthanized? Get your questions answered in this guide.

Does the Animal Shelter Put Dogs to Sleep?

Do dogs get killed in shelters?

Yes, but animal shelters do not automatically put dogs to sleep.

The decision to euthanize a dog is made on a case-by-case basis and is never taken lightly.

Several factors contribute to the decision, including the dog’s age, health, temperament, and adaptability.

In most cases, the animal shelter will only consider euthanasia as a last resort.

If a dog is sick or injured beyond treatment, or if it’s aggressive and poses a danger to people or other animals, then euthanasia may be considered.

However, even in these cases, every effort will be made to find a suitable home for the dog first.

Animal shelter staff understands that putting a healthy dog to sleep is a heartbreaking decision, so all other options are exhausted before resorting to euthanasia.

Read More: Can Shelter Dogs Be Service Dogs? Find out if adopted dogs can make good service dogs (and how!)

Reasons for Putting Down Dogs

Sick dogs that are suffering are often better off put to sleep than living a life in pain or discomfort.
If a dog is suffering, it’s more humane to put it down peacefully than let it live a life of discomfort or pain.

This decision for shelters to put a dog down is typically made when a dog is suffering from a terminal illness or has become severely incapacitated and is no longer able to enjoy a good quality of life.

While it may be tempting to try and keep a dog alive for as long as possible, at some point, it becomes more humane to let them go.

Some factors go into the decision to put a dog down.

  • The first is the severity of the dog’s condition.

If a dog is in pain or suffering from a debilitating disease, it may not be able to enjoy its life even with the best medical care.

  • Another factor to consider is the age of the dog.

A senior dog who is starting to experience many age-related health problems may not have many good years left, even with treatment.

In this case, putting the dog down may be the best way to prevent them from experiencing a gradual decline in its health and quality of life.

  • Finally, pet owners thinking of euthanizing their dog at an animal shelter must consider their emotional state and whether or not they’re prepared to care for a sick or elderly dog.

While it can be difficult to say goodbye, sometimes it’s the most selfless thing that an owner can do for their beloved pet.

Deciding to put a dog down is never easy, but sometimes it is the best thing for both the dog and the owner.

Those who are facing this difficult decision should talk to their veterinarian and trusted friends or family members to get advice to make the best choice.

Read More: What is the Average Cost to Put a Dog Down? Euthanizing your pet is hard enough without worrying about the cost. Here’s what you can expect.

The Procedure for Putting Dogs to Sleep

When dogs are put to sleep, they are made to be unconscious, then given a lethal dose of anesthetic.
Putting a dog to sleep via lethal injection is a humane and painless way to say goodbye to furry friends.

When a dog is put to sleep, it’s given a lethal injection of an anesthetic called pentobarbital.

This drug is also known as a “barbiturate,” and barbiturates work by depressing the central nervous system.

They are very fast-acting drugs, and when given in high enough doses, they will cause the animal to lose consciousness and eventually die.

The veterinarian will first check the dog’s vital signs to make sure that it’s healthy enough to be given the injection.

Once the dog is sedated, the vet will insert a needle into the vein in its front leg and slowly inject the pentobarbital.

The amount of drug that is given depends on the size of the dog and its general health.

After injecting the pentobarbital, the vet will usually wait for a few minutes before checking to see if the animal is truly unconscious. If it’s not, another dose may be given.

Once the animal is unconscious, the vet will give it a second injection of pentobarbital to stop its heart and breathing.

This second injection is usually given into the muscle behind the dog’s shoulder blade.

It generally takes only a minute or two for a dog to die after receiving the second injection of pentobarbital.

The entire procedure from start to finish usually takes less than 10 minutes.

After death, rigor mortis (the stiffening of muscles) sets in within 2-6 hours and lasts for 24-48 hours.

During this time, it is best not to disturb or handle the body too much as it can be quite brittle.

After rigor mortis has passed, the body can be cremated or buried according to the owner’s wishes or whichever is best for the shelter to accommodate.

Watch this video on how the process is carried out (no dogs in the video):

Read More: Why Are So Many Chihuahuas in Shelters? Chihuahuas are commonly surrendered to shelters, but why?


Animal shelters do not automatically put dogs to sleep, but they will euthanize dogs under certain circumstances.

If the dog is adoptable and there is space at the shelter, the dog will be kept alive until adopted.

Unfortunately, if the dog is not adoptable and there is no space at the shelter, then the dog may be put down.

But the decision to put a dog down is made on a case-by-case basis by a panel of experts.

In the end, animal shelters put the safety of people and other animals above all else, and will only resort to euthanasia as a last resort.

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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