One of the most difficult decisions that many pet owners face is knowing when—or if—to euthanize a pet. We bond with our pets and enjoy the special role that they fulfill in our lives.
When faced with the choice to put a cat or dog to sleep, no matter what we decide, our choice almost always carries a thread of doubt. Sometimes that doubt manifests as guilt, prompting us to wonder if God will forgive us for putting our pets to sleep.
We do not conclude from scripture that euthanizing pets, if done for humane reasons, is not a sin. God has given us the authority and responsibility to care for our animals, and euthanizing them is, in certain situations, a God-honoring expression of our care.
A Time for Empathy
When our pets begin to decline we grieve over their suffering. At the same time, without their ability to form words and sentences, we have a difficult time gauging the magnitude of their pain. We feel all of this on top of the mourning that we experience as we prepare for the inevitable death of a beloved animal companion.
So when we ask, “Will God forgive me for putting my dog to sleep?” we might also wonder if He will forgive us if we choose not to put a pet to sleep, or if we do so too soon.
If you are a pet owner who is struggling with the decision to put your dog to sleep, or if you are wrestling with guilt and doubt over a previous decision, we hope that the words below will some comfort.
The veterinary and personal dynamics are varied and unique to each animal and family, and we don’t purport to be able to advise on each individual situation. Instead, we offer a Biblical framework within which to consider the decisions—or process past choices—regarding your dog or cat.
The Place of Animals in Creation
In the beginning, God filled creation with a variety of animals, each designed to fulfill a particular role or function within the ecosystem He created. The whole of creation, along with each of its components, is made to reveal and proclaim the glory of God. (Psalm 24:1-2)
Before sin entered the world, God gave man the authority to rule over the animals while we care for His creation:
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Genesis 1:28
We read that our authority and our responsibility are interrelated. We cannot properly care for creation unless we are able to decide and act upon matters of choice. Likewise, we are not placed here to exercise authority for selfish reasons, but as participants in—and stewards of—God’s ongoing care.
When sin entered the world, the effect was felt throughout creation, and not just by man. The animals, and even the ground itself, were affected (Genesis 3:14-19). One noticeable impact related to animals is that, while all creatures were originally created as plant-eaters (Genesis 1:29-30), after the flood, God permitted animals to be eaten for food:
Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.Genesis 9:3
Though the dynamics between man and animals changed, the hierarchy did not change. So we must consider both our authority over animals and our responsibility for their care as we wrestle with the decision to euthanize our pets.
If you have read our previous article about whether or not animals have souls, then you are familiar with the importance of man being uniquely created in God’s image. Although it may be disappointing to realize that our specific, individual pets will not join us in eternity, it provides us a measure of comfort when dealing with the matter of euthanasia.
Just as God permitted the killing of animals for food in Genesis 9:3, in the verses that follow, He forbade the killing of humans:
And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.”Genesis 9:5b-6
Here—several centuries before the Ten Commandments were issued—God condemned the taking of human life because doing so assaults the image of God.
By contrast, taking the life of an animal does not produce a similar offense. God is mindful when even a sparrow dies (Matthew 10:29). Yet, we must not forget that Jesus told us this truth in order to remind us of our greater worth in God’s eyes by adding that we are “worth more than many sparrows” (v 31).
Although the overwhelming majority of veterinarians, pet owners, and animal rights advocates support the use of euthanasia to end the suffering of a pet, there still exists a small but vocal minority that condemns any intentional killing of an animal.
If you’ve read our piece about veganism, then you are familiar with the arguments that are sometimes made from scripture to condemn all killing of animals. As we concluded in that article, such arguments rely on an unbiblical elevation of animals to human status, and those arguments need not be revisited again in the present writing.
Even after sin entered the world, humanity still retained our position of authority over the animals:
What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.Psalm 8:4-8
We must remember, though, that our authority over creation is given to us because we are God’s image-bearers and His stewards.
Godly Care for Animals
The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.Proverbs 12:10
To care for our animals is to live according to God’s righteousness. Jesus validated this truth when others questioned his practice of healing on the Sabbath by saying, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull it out?” (Luke 14:5).
God cares for the sparrows and the other wild animals that are in His direct purview. And He entrusts us with the care of other animals—specifically our pets, livestock, and working animals.
As the writer of Proverbs reminds us, there can be no place for cruelty when we exercise Godly care. As Christians, we rightly reject cruelty to animals in life (through neglect, abuse, or forced fighting), and we ought to be equally mindful to avoid cruelty at the end of a pet’s life.
As a matter of conscience, some pet owners may choose only to let pets die naturally, and that is a valid choice, so long as reasonable measures of care are still provided to the animals.
A decision to put a dog or cat to sleep must never be made recklessly, or as a matter of giving up a healthy pet for the sake of convenience. Such selfish reasoning would be contrary to Godly stewardship. But when a decision to put a pet to sleep is rooted in a desire to end the animal’s suffering, it is a valid choice of conscience.
Regardless of which choice you make for your own pet, know that God has entrusted you with this choice and that He asks only that you honor His image by exercising responsible care throughout your pet’s life, including the final stages.