Advising clients on treating or euthanizing pets with behavior problems - Veterinary Medicine
Medicine Center
DVM Veterinary Medicine Featuring Information from:


Advising clients on treating or euthanizing pets with behavior problems


Dr. Gary Norsworthy with technician Emily Boulet.
Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP (feline practice), Alamo Feline Health Center, San Antonio, Texas

When housesoiling is the problem

Inappropriate elimination, often called housesoiling, is a complex and common problem. It is the most common behavior problem of cats and one of the main reasons cats are surrendered to shelters. This behavior is usually initiated by a stress-causing situation or a physical disease.

I recommend an aggressive approach to the problem that attempts to resolve stress-causing initiators or diseases that may cause chronic pain or polydipsia and polyuria. If these problems can be diagnosed and relieved, it is much easier to get the cat back to the litter box. However, once inappropriate elimination becomes patterned, a behavioral aspect (compulsion) may develop. In my opinion, after a short time, inappropriate elimination is patterned so deeply in most of these cats that it becomes what would be called in human medicine a form of mental illness. This may be impossible to correct. Ultimately, as Dr. Haug states, the owners can choose to live with the problem, try to rehabilitate the pet to an acceptable level, find a more suitable home for the cat, or euthanize the cat. In addition, I think owners have another option before euthanasia, and that is to make the cat an outdoor-only pet. It is hoped that euthanasia is not the chosen option.

Euthanasia is a decision that needs to be made very carefully, but it is also a decision that may be the best one for certain situations. Regarding feline housesoiling, one has to consider the frequency, the duration (greater than six months means a grave prognosis in my experience), the degree of home damage, the degree of aggravation or tolerance by all family members, the options, and the owner's personal feelings about euthanasia.


Dr. Michael H. Riegger
Michael H. Riegger, DVM, DABVP, Northwest Animal Clinic, Hospital and Specialty Practice, Albuquerque, N.M.

Get a clear understanding of the situation

One of the toughest issues we face in clinical medicine is coping with the issues surrounding dangerously aggressive dogs.

We have handled more than 250 cases associated with bites, many with legal action. The most emotionally traumatic of these involved the maiming of children's faces.

Our message and plan is a face-to-face visit with the family and dog to develop a clear understanding of the history, situation, environment, triggers, and prognosis.

Then I have a sit-down conference with the family and without the dog to discuss options, risks, strategies, and commitment to a behavior modification plan that includes significant follow-up visits.

One thing I would like to add in regard to Dr. Haug's excellent article is that although dental extractions to address behavior problems are controversial, we have experienced good results with this procedure in about 80% of the patients that would otherwise have been euthanized (because of aggression or destructive problems).


1. Riegger MH, Guntzelman J. Prevention and amelioration of stress and consequences of interactions between children and dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1990;196 (11):1781-1785.

2. Riegger MH, Guntzelman J. Prevention of aggression in the dog. In Proceedings. 9th Annu ACVIM Forum 1991;279–281.


Dr. Wayne L. Hunthausen
Wayne L. Hunthausen, DVM, Animal Behavior Consultations Westwood Animal Hospital, Westwood, Kan.

Empathize with the owners

The decision to euthanize is rarely, if ever, an easy one. But it is even more difficult if the pet is healthy, yet poses a considerable danger that cannot easily or dependably be managed.

It is important that the clinician handles these situations with utmost compassion and empathy. Families that feel guilt must be supported so they understand the correctness of the decision and their courage in making it. They need to be told that the caretaker understands the difficulty inherent in choosing to euthanize, but that the consequences of not euthanizing make the decision unavoidable.


Click here