New AVMA Euthanasia Guidelines Expand Advice On Preferred Methods

Latest guidelines offer updates on euthanasia.

The guidelines, available online on the organization’s AVMA Policies page, were prepared over three years by a 13-member Panel on Euthanasia. The committee was led by chairman Steven Leary, DVM, Dipl. ACLAM, of Washington University in St. Louis, and vice chairwoman Wendy Underwood, DVM, of Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis.

“The latest update of our euthanasia guidelines offers much more depth and breadth of expertise in the affected species and the environments in which euthanasia is performed,” Dr. Leary said. “The guidelines are used by everyone from veterinarians in private practice, to caretakers on farms and researchers in biomedical facilities, to law enforcement, to governmental regulators.”

The new guidelines acknowledge euthanasia as a process that involves more than just what happens to an animal at the time of its death, the AVMA reported. In addition to providing more information about techniques used for euthanasia across a broader range of species, the edition offers detailed information about animals’ physiologic and behavioral responses to euthanasia and addresses euthanasia’s effects on those performing and observing it.

“As we learn more about animals—their physiology and psychology—it’s important to update and sometimes change our approaches to euthanasia to ensure we continue to protect their welfare as best as possible,” Leary added.

The new edition includes recommended agents and methods of euthanasia by species. They include:

• Aquatic invertebrates: immersion in anesthetic solution such as magnesium salts, clove oil, eugenol, ethanol.
• Amphibians: injected barbiturates, dissociative agents and anesthetics, topical buffered tricaine methanesulfonate, benzocaine hydrochloride.
• Birds other than poultry: intravenous barbiturates.
• Cats: intravenous barbiturates, injected anesthetic overdose, Tributame, T-61.
• Cattle: intravenous barbiturates.
• Dogs: intravenous barbiturates, injected anesthetic overdose, Tributame, T-61.
• Finfish: immersion in buffered benzocaine or benzocaine hydrochloride, isoflurane, sevoflurane, quinaldine sulfate, buffered tricaine methanesulfonate, 2-phenoxyethanol, injected pentobarbital, rapid chilling.
• Equids: intravenous barbiturates.
• Marine mammals: injected barbiturates (captive) or injected barbiturates or anesthetic overdose (free ranging).
• Nonhuman primates: injected barbiturates or anesthetic overdose.
• Poultry: injected barbiturates and anesthetic overdose.
• Rabbits: intravenous barbiturates.
• Reptiles: injected barbiturates, dissociative agents and anesthetics (depending on species).
• Rodents: injected barbiturates and barbiturate combinations, dissociative agent combinations.
• Small ruminants: injected barbiturates.
• Swine: injected barbiturates.

The guidelines also provide adjunctive methods acceptable under certain conditions, including the use of a gunshot or penetrating captive bolt on cattle, equids and small ruminants. Unacceptable primary methods for euthanasia, such as burning and drowning, are summarized in an appendix.

Flow charts are included to help veterinarians decide whether euthanasia is warranted and weigh the morality of their decision.

“Because veterinarians are committed to improving animal and human health and welfare, and because they work tirelessly to discover causes and cures for animal diseases and promote good animal management, some may feel a sense of disquiet or defeat when euthanasia becomes the better course of action,” the guidelines point out.

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