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How Long Do Animals Stay In Shelters Before Being Put Down?

How Long Do Animals Stay In Shelters Before Being Put Down?

Stats by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) state that 920,000 animals are euthanized in US shelters every year.

Out of this number, 530,000 cats and 390,000 dogs are put to sleep annually.

Before you get too disappointed with these statistics, realize that the number stood at 2.6 million in 2011.

Adoption has gone up in the last decade or so, lowering the number of animals put down in shelters.

Still, the whole idea of killing animals doesn’t sit well with many animal lovers.

Shelters typically euthanize animals for different reasons. The most obvious is overpopulation.

Unbeknownst to many, this is a serious problem in the US. The animals that make their way to shelters are way too many compared to the space and resources in these facilities.

Ultimately, some will have to be put down. Secondly, extremely sick animals with no chance of recovery are killed to ease them of the pain and limit the spread of the disease to other animals.

 Shelters often have vets who determine which animals are too sick to keep alive.

Other animals are euthanized because they are overly aggressive. 

How Long Before Euthanasia

Shelters don’t just decide to put down animals at any time.

There are rules and regulations that surround when to euthanize them. This is called the holding period and is the time by which the shelter keeps the animal before finally putting it down.

How long is this time frame?

According to, thirty states in the US have laws regarding the holding period of animals.

These are simply called “holding period laws” and determine the length of time an impounded animal is held in a shelter before it is euthanized, sold, or adopted.

This period is put in place to give owners enough time to reclaim their pets.

 If no one claims the animal, it essentially belongs to the shelter and it can decide what to do with it going forward.

The bulk of the thirty states with holding laws must keep the animals for 3-7 days before putting them down.

However, some have very short holding periods (as short as 48 days). Others such as Maine give up to 8 days before euthanizing their animals.

Here’s an article with a table that shows the holding period of most of the states in the United States.

Please note that the holding period laws only apply in situations where animals are seized by the shelters of animal authorities.

In cases where owners voluntarily give their animals away, euthanasia can happen in a matter of hours.

This is especially true if the dog is sick beyond any medical help or aggressive (in a manner that puts the public and other animals at risk). Learn more here: How Many Times Can A Dog Bite Before Being Put Down?

Speaking of sickness, the holding period also doesn’t cover extremely sick animals in general.

When shelters encounter animals that are in very bad shape, they will not wait for the holding period to pass before putting them down.

 The humane thing to do would be to put the animal out of its misery. This applies to extremely sick or severely injured animals. The law gives shelters the freedom to euthanize the poor animals.

Finally, not all shelters play by the rules when it comes to putting down their animals.

For one, there are no-kill facilities that only put down their animals if they are beyond recovery.

The healthy ones remain in the shelters for months or years. If a dog finds its way into one of these, he will stay alive for much longer than his counterparts in standard shelters. 

Others are so tight when it comes to money that they kill animals in the shortest time possible.

 So, sometimes it depends on the type of shelter, the health of the animal, and the resources of the shelter.

Do Animals Suffer When They Are Put Down?

Euthanasia is derived from the Greek word which means ‘good death’. The idea of the practice is to put down animals in a humane way.

They should feel less pain and distress. These can be through physical or pharmacological methods.

Most shelters use lethal injection to put their animals down. The bad ones subject them to toxic gases and other horrendous ways of killing.

Euthanasia by lethal injection is not painful for the cat or dog. First, the vet makes sure the animal is as comfortable as possible.

They will then administer the intravenous anesthetic which causes unconsciousness. Your pet will smoothly drift away.

 The next shot is the shot of death. By then, the animal’s brain activity will have been disrupted, so pain is no longer an issue.

Death happens so smoothly that you cannot tell until the vet checks for the lack of a pulse.

 After death, the pet may take a few last breaths but these are caused by involuntary muscle relaxations. They don’t mean that the pet is alive.

If your shelter insists on using any other euthanasia method besides lethal injection, protest. Most of them are painful for the poor animal.

Report to the local authorities and if nothing is done, look for another alternative.

What Do They Do With Animals After They Are Put To Sleep?

After putting down animals, shelters have several options for disposing of their bodies.

First, they give owners of dogs (if any) the body of their pet to bury privately. You can carry out a home burial if your dog had no communicable disease.

 With that said, some states don’t allow the burying of animals on personal properties, so find out where you stand before doing so. Burial can also happen in a pet cemetery.

The most common method of disposing of bodies is cremation. When placed in special incinerators, the body disposes of into ashes. This can be done en masse or privately depending on your wishes and the depth of your pocket.

Although rare, some shelters give away the bodies of dogs to vet schools to be used as educational materials.

In Summary…

How long do animals stay in shelters before they are put down?

The rule for many states is 3-7 days but it really just depends on the health of the dog, whether the dog was seized or voluntarily given to the shelter, and the financial muscle of the shelter.

 After the time expires, shelters are given the right to euthanize their animals.

Last Updated on July 31, 2022 by

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