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Why We Should Not Euthanize Pets- A Buddhist View

Updated on August 12, 2014
With My Dog Bismarcki Who I Nursed Till Her Last Breath
With My Dog Bismarcki Who I Nursed Till Her Last Breath | Source

Euthanasia in Humans

Whether one is Buddhist or not, The Buddha has much to teach us about compassion and karma.

People in the agony of an unredeemable illness often ponder the possibility of taking their own lives or asking others to do it for them. But human life, according to The Buddha is most precious and we are born into our circumstances in accordance with our karma from previous lives. We are born so that we can resolve unsolved issues and repay kindnesses and a serious illness can very well be part of the lerning we are required to do in order to progress spiritually.

We are, after all, as someone wise said, spiritual beings in physical bodies.

Yet, we see euthanasia is a growing trend, with many fatally ill people opting for voluntary euthanasia. And of course, putting ailing pets down is rife. I have even come across people putting their pets to sleep just because the pets have become old.

The First Precept of Buddhism

Not to take life is the first and foremost precept of Buddhism. This means neither are we free to end our own lives or those of our pets.

When The Buddha discovered that some monks, disgusted by their bodies – the blood, pus, feces, innards, etc. - were killing themselves or asking other monks to kill them, he put an end to the practice by formulation the first precept which forbids the destruction of life.

Monks that were guilty of abetting this crime were excommunicated.

Jigsaw (White & Black) With Bismarcki And Their Very Sick Mother Rapunzel
Jigsaw (White & Black) With Bismarcki And Their Very Sick Mother Rapunzel | Source

The Unnecessary Prolonging of Life

The reader may recall that when The Buddha become fatally ill from ingesting poisonous mushrooms, he did not seek treatment but simply allowed Death to take him.

Taking medicines to ward of inevitable death would have been immoral, as it would have artificially prolonged his life. According to The Buddha, every living soul on the planet has been accorded a certain time for birth and death. Allowing one’s death when one senses that a cure is impossible and the end is near is to go against one’s destiny and the universal flow.

Although I intend to write about pet euthanasia, I find it imperative to first to recognise and acknowledge the fact that all sentient beings are equal in that they all have karma and a particular destiny. Animals, like us are subject to the same laws of karma.

In the case of my dog Jisaw who also died of old age (at age 19 20), I decided eventually to stop giving him injections to keep him alive. These were hurting him (apart from his illness) and he had stopped eating or drinking after having been on drips a couple of times. I decided to allow him to die in peace just as the vet suggested.

Let Our Pets Resolve Their Karma

Therefore, according to Buddhism, we have no right to decided on a living being’s lifespan. Our pets, like us, are here to leran their lessons and illness is a part of it. Something they must endure in order to be reborn in better circumstances. Let us not interfere in that process and delay their self realisation.

Instead, let us look after them to their dying day, their last breath. And let us serve them and look after them without feelings of resentment or complaint. Let us bury them with the love and respect they deserve.

Besides, when we take life, we must face the negative karma we create. What goes around comes around.

With My Favourite Dog Rasputin Who Died From A Heart Attack At Age 14. He Was Jigsaw's Brother, Bismarcki's Father.
With My Favourite Dog Rasputin Who Died From A Heart Attack At Age 14. He Was Jigsaw's Brother, Bismarcki's Father. | Source

Putting a Pet Down Due to Lack Of Commitment and Compassion

It’s easy to see that many pet owners decide to put old and ailing pets down because they cannot commit themselves to the welfare of their pets. They don’t want to invest the time and extra effort nursing a pet requires or simply cannot bear to watch their pets suffer. But we make a commitment to our pets when we bring them home. We know how much they love and care for us.

My spiritual mentors tell me that dogs chase away negativity and heal us all the time. They make us feel better both mentally and physically when we play with them. They take upon themselves our illnesses.

I speak from experience. My close friend Sunaina – who underwent a major gall bladder surgery and found that her liver and pancreas were also slightly damaged had a dog who became suddenly ill after her surgery. It is no coincidence that the dog had liver problems. As though she had taken on the illness of her owner.

Botched Euthanasia Attempts

I see blogs about euthanized pets that either came back to life to happy and repentant owners or froze to death in the freezers into which they were packed. The Los Angeles Times tells a story about a man who attempted to have his 11-year old dog put to sleep because he could not handle her spinal problem which required him to feed her by hand. But once the dog survived the euthanasia attempt, he said he neither had the heart or the money to try putting her down again and is looking for someone to adopt her.

I also come across posts that say that pets actually resist euthanasia which makes vets put the euthanizing agent into their food.

One dog owner writes that when the vet came to their home to put down their mini Schnauzer. that had a bad heart and was no longer eating or drinking, "he sat up and cried and acted like his leg was hurt. We felt like we had botched his death. It was traumatizing and horrible to witness."

Pets Are Our Relatives

The Buddha clearly said that our pets are our relatives from previous lives. We ourselves have been born as animals, and may go back to our animal status depending on our karma. Perhaps that dying pet suffering so much is here with us because we owe them the care and compassion. Perhaps in another life we did not look after them, and now we must make up for it.

When my dog Bismarcki died of old age a year ago, she was severely arthritic, peed and pooed in her bed at times (although she always tried to drag herself out of her bed to save me the trouble of cleaning up) and in her final days had to be fed.

Being fortunate enough to have spiritual guidance, I understood the importance of not complaining and instead, serving her. She was enabling me to learn a lesson, to be more tolerant, patient and compassionate.

I could only thank my dog Bismarcki for that.

Venerable Gonsar Rinpoche on Pet Euthanasia

From an interview with Venerable Gonsar Rinpoche:

Q. What do you recommend to western dog keepers and breeders?

A: Nowadays, there are tendencies to exaggeration. That is never good. It is selfish and childish to shape beings according to our own wishes. My recommendation is to keep the Tibetan dog breeds as they are: healthy and robust and adapted to their life-task.

I don't think it is good to feed them with much meat. Today, it always has to be meat. This can cause disease.

I also regret that dog owners are willing to put their sick dogs to sleep. That is like killing a member of the family. Of course, we should help the animal and keep him from suffering. But often it is a selfish decision, as we are not able to cope with the illness, additional work and suffering at hand. Death always causes suffering; we cannot escape that.

More Material to Read:

Buddhism, Euthanasia and Suicide on BBC


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    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 15 months ago from Bangalore, India

      Glynnis - I know how you feel. We all have some guilt feelings regarding our pets that are no more. Pray for her. And don't do it again. And stop feeling guilty for you have repented.


    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 2 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Victoria, let's be balanced about this. Of course we should use medicine etc. when it's needed. But killing other sentient beings is another matter.

    • profile image

      Victoria 2 years ago

      What about artificially extending life through medicines, injections, surgeries, etc? Does this not also interfere with the natural course and destiny of an individual's life?

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 3 years ago from Florida

      I have an aging Min. Schnauzer. I hope when she dies, she will die quickly and in her sleep; the same wish I have for myself. I don't think I could have her euthanized, but it would depend on the circumstances at the time.

    • profile image

      hmph 3 years ago

      i just don't know. i have to make this decision and i just don't know.

    • profile image

      Milos 3 years ago

      Anita, thanks for your answer. In case of my cat, it was a painful decision between ending its pain (and, sadly, life) in a peaceful way vs. risking even more pain with uncertain outcome and uncertain impact on its well-being. Very difficult, I admit, as one might never fully know the right answer. It is my every intention to honor the life of my beloved cat by spreading the unconditional love it helped me to find. Even as we speak to each other though, we influence each other's karma – my opinions reflect in your mind and vice versa. It could be argued that even if we adopt or give medications to an animal we interfere with the natural flow of things and what you might call “resolving” their karma. There’s no escaping the fact that our actions shape us and our environment every single moment, not just in those sad last moments before death. Therefore I’m struggling with this concept because on one hand it’s considered noble to ease pain during disease or save life, yet it is not considered noble to ease pain in the creature’s sad last moments. Still, were I not struggling with answers, I would have not found your blog and learned a different perspective. I certainly agree though that any decision to kill just for the sake of it is plain wrong.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you Milos for your comment. I understand your point of view. I am only presenting the Buddhist view on euthanasia. If it is the cat's karma to lose a limb, so be it. You can help your cat resolve its karmic issues (that caused the accident) by looking after the animal the best you can. It is your karmic connection that has brought you together. It is hard, but must be endured. In the end of course, it is your decision. Some human beings want to kill themselves when they suffer. Perhaps animals do too, which doesn't make murder or suicide right.

    • profile image

      Milos 3 years ago

      This is a very complex issue. I decided to put down my beloved cat who strayed away and returned four days later, probably hit by a car, his hind leg severely gangrenous and full of worms feeding off the deceasing tissue. The options were essentially reduced to euthanasia and amputation. I was told that even amputation wouldn’t guarantee the cat’s survival at this point – in ideal case, the cat would survive the surgery with three limbs and in the opposite case the cat would die anyway after days or even weeks of additional misery. Even in the “ideal” case the animal could later suffer from depression, phantom limb pain, arthritis, etc. I felt there was no “best” option anymore and made a decision – wouldn’t it be actually selfish to avoid the responsibility and let the animal suffer? Very difficult to say and very difficult to assess what makes up quality of life for a cat. After a couple of days of mourning and pondering this issue I eventually came to the conclusion that it’s useless to search for rights or wrongs in a situation that’s wrong in the first place. Pet animals likely wouldn’t voluntarily choose the environment we put them in and they certainly wouldn’t survive many illnesses and injuries we help them to survive. If nature was to take its course in the wild, my cat would certainly die in horrible pain, his blood being gradually poisoned, slowly being eaten by worms. So, in case of pets we set up artificial situations and then try to argue about what is natural. A friend of mine told me – “they wanted to kill this cat right after birth and you gave it a chance” – and I wonder, was it for the good cause eventually? I think there are no easy answers in these situations. Each individual case has to be considered from the place of tenderness, compassion and responsibility.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you Bishop55. You know, if a cat is that sick you could just let it go in peace as I did with Jigsaw after having medicated him and put him on drip. The Buddha resigned himself to his serious illness.

    • Bishop55 profile image

      Rebecca 3 years ago from USA

      Anita, I always consider this as well. Putting down two cats was the worst decision for me. It was hard. I tried to keep the cat with kidney failure going (medications, diet changes, fluids), but he was just to sick. This hub really resonated with me. Our fur babies just don't live long enough ever. Again, I appreciate this hub. It's important to look at things from many views. Now I just wish I could put my pets on my insurance plan, and have an option for in home health care for them!

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Hi Kim, I'm happy that you will consider it. What makes us think that animals are not filled with horror and a sense of betrayal when killed by the hands that cuddled them? Have we ever heard of dogs committing suicide when gravely ill?

    • profile image

      Kim Dessaix 3 years ago

      I will truly consider this should I be in the situation of making a choice again.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Kim, the Do Unto Others is also part of Buddhism - but just because one has the license to kill himself (for whatever reason) does not give him the license to kill other beings. This is only the Buddhist view and my attempt is to simply present it so that people think twice before taking such a drastic step. One that would lead to unresolved issues that must be resolved in a future life. Thanks for reading, Kim.

    • profile image

      Kim Dessaix 3 years ago

      Anita, I completely respect your philosophy but as a Christian mine is to treat another as I would wish to be treated. I too believe in Karma, but do we interfere in the Karma of animals when we, as they cannot, make the decision to end their lives? I would happily take on their Karma to not see them suffer longer than necessary. I only wish we could be as kind to humans in severe pain who have given their consent.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thank you DrMark1961. Yes, I know it's not an ideal world.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 3 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

      I have ended a lot of suffering over the years, but I can definitely see you viewpoint and wish that the first precept worked in all cases. Alas, I fear it does not, and agree much more with Bishop´s statement above.

      Thank you for writing this Anita. As you mentioned, to each his own.

    • Anita Saran profile image

      Anita Saran 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Thanks for the comment Bishop55. To each his own, but one can't deny that the ending of life artificially is not humane in terms of karma.

    • Bishop55 profile image

      Rebecca 3 years ago from USA

      I really like this hub, but pose a question...aren't we supposed to help eliminate suffering? With animals we are fortunate enough to be able to end their suffering (when it is terminal), in a peaceful way, humane way. I would euthanize my human family if it was an option and they were terminal with no chance of recovery. I know they too would not want to suffer. I've had pets die naturally in my arms and I've put a few down. One because of organ failure, the other had multiple health issues and was elderly. I don't regret ending their suffering. I know the choice to put them down is very personal.


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