Feline Behavioral Euthanasia: The Three Reasons It Happens and What to Do Instead

Euthanizing a cat for behavioral reasons should be exceptionally rare. After all, very few cats pose a significant safety risk to health or human safety and appropriate alternative placement is an option for most cats. Yet, thousands of cats are still euthanized in shelters every year with “behavior” cited as the culprit. 

As an industry that has historically marginalized the plight of cats and disproportionately euthanized them, it’s time to put an end to this outdated, unethical practice. 

There are three main reasons cats are still euthanized for behavior: aggression, being unsocial, and house-soiling. All three have alternative live outcomes possible in almost every instance.


No cat should be euthanized for aggression without first doing these four things: 

  • Investigating the root cause of the aggression 
  • Placing the cat in a foster home where shelter stress is eliminated 
  • Veterinary investigation into possible medical causes 
  • Behavior modification training 

While feline behavior modification in animal sheltering lags behind canine behavior modification, help does exist and we owe it to cats to provide them the same lifesaving resources. See our feline behavioral euthanasia document for steps to take.

Unsocialized Cats

There is no reason a cat should ever be euthanized for the crime of being unsocialized, or wild. If these cats cannot be returned to their original outdoor habitats, alternative adoption placement via working cat/barn cat programs is the ethical solution. See the Maddie’s How To Build A Working Cat Program self-guided online course to get started.

House-Soiling Cats

Cats who are urinating or defecating outside their litter boxes often have underlying medical causes contributing to the behavior which must be addressed. 

Failing that, behavior modification and retraining are both available and must be employed prior to considering euthanasia or alternative placement in a working or barn cat program. However, even if both are unsuccessful, these cats should be guaranteed a live outcome through safe outdoor placement in a working/barn cat home.

When ‘Medical’ Becomes the Reason for ‘Behavioral’ Euthanasia

A large number of stressed, feral, and/or fractious cats are euthanized under a medical outcome subtype for minor, treatable illness or injury for which a “friendly” cat would have received treatment. This constitutes behavioral euthanasia, as well—and we must be honest and transparent, and call these deaths what they really are, if we ever hope to fix the problem.

Cats have many odds stacked against them in animal shelters: we battle surging populations during kitten season and shelter stress which brings tsunamis of upper respiratory illness and calicivirus. Feline behavioral euthanasia should not be one of the battles we have to fight for cats when there are clear, lifesaving alternatives available. 

That is not to say that behavioral euthanasia should never be considered in an extreme case. But those instances should be so exceedingly uncommon that they warrant the question: Do you even need a protocol? 

If so, perhaps the protocol should simply read, “Have you really tried everything else?”

We owe it to our feline friends to offer nothing less.

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