Why Are More Pets Euthanized During the Holidays?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
By Jennifer Coates, DVM on Oct. 22, 2019

If you spend much time hanging out with veterinarians around the holidays, you’re likely to hear someone mention how they are being bombarded by euthanasia appointments.

This got me to thinking—are more pets actually euthanized during the holidays, and if so, why?

I’m not aware of any scientific studies on euthanasia trends during the holidays, but many vets will agree that they do notice a spike.

A quick search through an online message board for veterinarians revealed at least eight discussions on the topic with the consensus being clear—the holiday onslaught of euthanasia appointments is real and has several probable underlying reasons.

Why Do Vets See More Pet Euthanasia During the Holidays?

Here are five of the most likely reasons for the increase in pet euthanasia during the holiday season.

1. Temperature Changes

Cold weather can be very tough on some pets, especially large dogs with advanced osteoarthritis. Pet parents might start to notice the full extent of their pet’s arthritis symptoms as the weather gets colder.

Before making any decisions, visit your veterinarian to discuss which stage of arthritis your pet is at and to assess their level of pain and mobility. An arthritic pet’s quality of life will depend on things like whether the pain can be managed, whether you are able to accommodate their mobility needs and whether any form of treatment can help.

2. Pet Stress

Stress of any kind can worsen a failing pet’s condition, and the holidays can certainly be stressful, especially for pets.

Altered schedules, houseguests, and even changes in the layout of the home due to decorations could be enough to push a pet’s health over the tipping point.

For example, a recent study revealed that “short-term stressors led to a significant increase in SB [sickness behaviors] in both healthy cats and cats with FIC [feline idiopathic cystitis]. 

3. Human Stress

Yes, the holidays can be stressful for pets, but it’s stressful for many owners too.

Money can get tight this time of year, and, unfortunately, that often does play at least some role in deciding if and when to euthanize.

While temporarily tight finances shouldn’t lead to euthanasia when it isn’t otherwise warranted, it may limit a family’s ability to pursue aggressive or last resort treatments.

Human depression can also deepen during the holidays, which may lead to a feeling of futility that extends to ailing pets.

4. Family and Friends

Many owners want to keep their pets around for one more holiday, and so they may avoid euthanizing them in the preceding weeks or months.

This is understandable, particularly when out-of-town kids, other family members or friends will use the opportunity for some last snuggles and to say goodbye.

But it’s not in the best interest of the pet to keep them hanging on when they might be in pain or have a poor quality of life. Use the Quality of Life scale with your veterinarian to assess your pet’s quality of life to determine when the best time is for your pet.

A pet’s slow decline has a way of sneaking up on people who experience it every day. I’ve had several owners tell me that it took the kids coming home from college to notice how bad things had gotten to make them finally accept that humane euthanasia was the right choice.

5. Travel

Conversely, owners who are leaving town themselves may be unwilling to put their ailing pets through the stress of travel or being looked after by someone else.

While on the surface, this may sound like a matter of convenience, it can actually be the nudge that pet parents need to make a tough but necessary decision.

In fact, I wish I had euthanized my beloved, ailing 17-year-old dog before I had to leave town for a few days years ago. I chose not to and forever lost the opportunity to be with him during his last minutes.

There is no one “right” time to say goodbye to a pet, which means a combination of all of these factors (and probably more) lead to an increase in euthanasia during the holidays.

The best thing you can do is to discuss your pet’s health and quality of life with your veterinarian to make an informed decision that’s best for your pet.

By: Jennifer Coates, DVM

Featured Image: iStock.com/filadendron

Related Video: When Is the Right Time to Euthanize a Pet?

Jennifer Coates, DVM


Jennifer Coates, DVM


Dr. Jennifer Coates is an accomplished veterinarian, writer, editor, and consultant with years of experience in the fields of veterinary...

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