Can I Kill a Terminally Sick Pet Myself, or Do I Need a Veterinarian?
You can legally euthanize (meaning kill to relieve pain) your pet under specific circumstances. You must meet the two criteria that are detailed below to kill your pet lawfully.
You can face animal cruelty criminal charges or other penalties if you kill a pet using methods not described below. There are also regulations and ordinances about killing a healthy animal, so it is illegal to kill your pet for no reason.
If you can no longer care for your sick pet or afford their medical needs, you can surrender them to a shelter at no cost to you and with no legal penalties.
Legally Killing My Dog or Pet: Acceptable Reasons
Owner-induced euthanasia is only legal if your pet is:
- Medically so sick or injured that it is near death
- Medically “not fit” for living any longer (such as severe brain damage, at risk of losing multiple limbs, etc.)
Most owners consult with a veterinarian before determining if an animal is near death or unfit for living a long and healthy life. A vet’s conclusion may be that your dog has weeks or months to live. This allows you to take the dog home and make a personal decision about the right time to let them go.
In some situations, the clinic can be too expensive or too far away (some clinics do offer phone and video appointments), so people must decide independently.
Keep in mind that most dogs can lead happy and full lives with missing limbs, blindness, deafness, or other special needs.
They may be “not fit” in your eyes, or the level of care might be more than you can handle, but there are owners out there who are willing to take in animals with special needs.
Humanely Shooting or Killing My Dog at Home: Acceptable Methods
The method for killing a sick dog must:
- Be done in a humane way
- Use a painless, fast, and effective manner
Examples of legal methods of killing animals include:
- Shooting the animal so that it will die immediately
- Injecting the animal with a drug or substance that will kill it peacefully
These are both examples of humanely “putting down” your dog at home.
Injecting an animal with the correct substance to peacefully put them to sleep can be difficult, so many owners opt for a licensed animal handler to come to their home. This is often a more peaceful option for your pet than bringing them to the vet’s office.
Laws About Killing a Healthy Animal Yourself
If your dog could have a decent standard of living for several years, you can’t kill them. Killing a healthy and happy animal yourself is always considered illegal.
Your options under these circumstances are:
- Keep the dog
- Surrender them to a shelter
- Find them a new home
You also can’t abandon a dog or let them go free. Also, some shelters have the right to euthanize healthy dogs. This falls under their own business ordinances and state laws.
You can never kill a domesticated animal that doesn’t belong to you (except in rare circumstances, such as when a dog is on your property or posing a danger to animal or human life). This is considered the destruction of property in the eyes of the law.
Laws About a Vet Killing a Healthy Animal
If you ask a vet to put your pet down, it is called “owner-requested euthanasia” or “convenience euthanasia.”
Your vet has the legal right to euthanize a healthy animal if:
- It is beyond behavioral rehabilitation
- It is dangerous or has behavioral issues
- Nothing can be done to safely rehome the dog
Deciding that an animal is beyond help is subjective to the veterinarian. They have euthanasia guidelines to follow under the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Sometimes a vet may refuse euthanasia, and they will surrender the animal to a shelter, which may choose to euthanize the animal.
Illegal Killing of Animals
There are criminal penalties for animal cruelty. Anyone can report you if you kill a pet in a manner that is considered:
Animal cruelty penalties can include jail time, probation, or fines. You will face criminal charges in court and need an attorney to defend you.
The laws and ordinances can be different for farms, slaughterhouses, and working farm animals. Check your local ordinances if you are not sure.
Can I Go To Jail for Killing My Dog or Other Pet?
Yes, animal cruelty is a misdemeanor in most states. You can face jail time, fines of $1,000, or other penalties if you:
- Kill your pet in an illegal manner
- Don’t dispose of the body correctly (it is illegal dumping to leave their body somewhere, and some city ordinances don’t let you bury them in your yard)
- Abuse the animal before killing it
- Kill an animal that was healthy or fit for life
Options For Animals I Don’t Want
If you can’t keep an animal, or they need specific care you can’t provide, consider surrendering them to an animal shelter.
Shelters and rescues can rehome most dogs at no cost to you. Many shelters require an appointment before surrendering an animal. It is never illegal to surrender a hurt or sick animal.
Animal Shelters Aren’t Police
If there are signs of abuse or neglect and you do not surrender a pet proactively, you can face criminal charges. Your neighbors can call in the crime and send the police or Animal Control to your home at any time.
Surrendering your dog and being honest about their condition is the best way to get the animal help and avoid committing a crime. You can simply say you can no longer care for the dog properly.
Abusing or neglecting an animal and then killing it is a crime. While most states see a pet as your property, you must follow federal animal rights laws.
If you are worried about animal cruelty charges or are facing penalties or fines for killing your pet, you should talk to a criminal defense attorney right away.