How Long Do Animal Shelters Keep Pets Before Euthanizing Them?
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How Long Do Animal Shelters Keep Pets Before Euthanizing Them?

How long do animal shelters wait before killing the pets? When do animal shelters put animals to sleep? How much time do pets have in the animal shelter before they are killed? What is the 72 hour rule? How long should I wait before reporting my pet missing to the animal shelter? How long do animal shelters keep the pets?

You many not think you need to know how long animal shelters keep pets before euthanizing them but if your pet goes missing and ends up at an animal shelter you may find that this is the most pressing issue on your mind.

While every animal shelter is different most follow the basic 72 hour guideline. This means that if a stray pet is brought to the shelter they must hold it for a minimum of 72 hours before euthanizing it (putting it to sleep). This is why it is very important to report your missing pet to the shelter right away and why you should check in person every few days.

This does not mean that the animal shelter has a ticking clock on every cage and will necessarily euthanize a pet after 72 hours, but most must use that as a guideline for their minimum wait, after which they are usually considered the legal owner of the pet and can do with it as they please, either euthanizing it, putting it up for adoption, or waiting a few more days to determine what to do with it.

No shelter is eager to euthanize a healthy pet, however one that is aggressive, suffering, or would otherwise be not adoptable, could be euthanized fairly soon after this time period has passed.  When space allows animal shelters try to keep lost pets a little longer in hopes that their owner will claim them.

Many shelters also follow a 10 day wait in the case of purebred animals identified with a breeder tattoo or microchip.. They can try to trace the owner via this identification, and recognize that purebred pets are seldom turned loose, and that it probably has an owner looking for it. Of course the owner is still equally responsible for looking for the pet too and should try to contact the shelter when their pet goes missing, especially if their contact information has changed since they got the animal.

In any case, some shelters perform euthanasia on pets only one day in the week, others do it more regularly, with some large shelters euthanizing pets even on the weekends. Some shelters automatically euthanize all unclaimed stray pets (after the minimum 72 hours), only putting owner surrendered pets up for adoption. Other animal shelter sort through the animals selecting the most adoptable pets and euthanizing the others. Open admission shelters cannot keep them all as they do not have space, however no-kill shelters only accept animals when they have room so do not face this dilemma.


The animals that are selected to go up for adoption are checked by a veterinarian, vaccinated, and wormed. This costs the shelter money so they prefer not to euthanize the pets after that point and most only do so if they feel the pet has been up for adoption too long and may be suffering mentally as a result, or if they simply want to give another animal a chance at getting adopted. For most shelters this may mean that pets are kept in adoption for 2-3 months, however no-kill shelters would keep them indefinitely, as long as their health is good.

How to Protect Your Pet

As a pet owner, you must be responsible. And this means you must have your dog registered with the city or county you live in. These are required by law to at the very lease to have your dog registered and have rabies shots. Other shots that are recommended are to have a distemper shot. Depending where you live there are other shots that might be recommended. Another shot that is recommended is a Bordetella shot.

Having your dog or cat chipped by your veterinarian is also important. In case your dog or cat is every lost, someone that finds them can take the dog or cat to a vet or shelter and they can read the chip and call you on the phone.

NoteThis is only to give you a general idea about animal shelter policies, you should note that every shelter is different and laws in regards to how long animals must be kept may be different in different areas. It is important to stress that euthanasia is never the “first choice” shelters would always prefer that pets were claimed or adopted.

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Comments (4)

Thanks Brenda for this thoughtful article. It breaks my heart to think about people abandoning their pets. What about some of the fostering projects that I have heard about? Are you familiar with them?

Interesting post on pets. Thank you dear Brenda.

Must be hard to be a worker at a shelter and have to worry about euthanizing the animals.

i think its really wrong to put animals down bc you ant find them a home..its bc you guys want to much money for for just a little animal, besides putting them down i think you guys should have a get together at a park close to you, and let people adopt them, without having to pay, or pay so much. i really think it would work and would save a lot of animals. if you think about it, its somewhat like abuse in a way bc your not letting them live and your cutting there life shortr then what it really should be...thank you:)

-Danielle Hurst