The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) believes that when animals are killed for food, humane necessity, or any other reason, their death must be quick and cause the least possible pain and distress. The most appropriate method of euthanasia, however, may vary depending on animal species. Every practice should have a policy on euthanasia. For species other than companion animals, veterinarians should assist clients in developing a euthanasia plan for each species and class of animal under their care.
The animal must be rendered irreversibly unconscious as rapidly as possible with the least possible pain, fear, and anxiety. The preferred methods used to achieve this are those that affect the brain first, followed quickly by cessation of cardiac and respiratory function. The experience, training, sensitivity, and compassion of the individual carrying out the procedure are critical 1–5.
Handling and movement of animals should be minimized. Animal restraint should be in accordance with animal welfare and operator safety requirements, and sufficient to facilitate effective killing. When restraint is required, killing should follow with minimal delay 1,5.
The intravenous injection of a concentrated barbiturate with prior sedation is widely considered the most humane method for euthanizing animals. It causes a comparatively aesthetic death, is rapid-acting, reliable, and effective. Care must be taken, however, to ensure that animals killed with barbiturates are disposed of in a responsible manner since such animals can be a significant source of environmental toxicity. Improper disposal may result in the illness and death of scavenging animals 1,5. Euthanasia of large numbers of unwanted companion animals may occur at animal shelters, pounds, and animal hospitals. The CVMA believes that euthanasia is not desirable as a sole means of population control, but recognizes that euthanasia is still necessary for unwanted companion animals that cannot be placed in new homes 6. The CVMA encourages veterinarians, animal shelters, and municipal governments to work together to ensure that optimal methods of euthanasia are used in all animal shelters, pounds, and animal hospitals.
A variety of acceptable and humane methods of euthanasia exist for livestock and other animal species. When feasible, sedation of fractious animals is encouraged to minimize fear and risk of injury.
Large numbers of livestock and poultry have been euthanized in response to infectious disease outbreaks and natural disasters. Animal welfare considerations should be addressed within emergency response contingency plans.
The CVMA recommends that federal and provincial governments develop and periodically update protocols for humane killing of animals for both emergency response situations and human consumption. The use of pithing rods guarantees that the stunning of livestock is irreversible and that the contamination of carcasses and immediate surroundings is minimized. Use of pithing rods should be considered when large numbers of animals are to be killed as an emergency response requirement, provided that the intact brain will not be needed for diagnostic testing 7.
The CVMA continues to actively review the literature on this most important subject and
supports the recommendations made in the following documents:
AVMA Panel on Euthanasia – American Veterinary Medical Association. 2000 report of the AVMA panel on euthanasia. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:669–696. Update: AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia (Formerly Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia) June 2007
The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals, Vol #1, 2nd ed. 1993.
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Position Statement on Pest Control, March 2003
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Position Statement on Trapping of Fur-Bearing Animals, July 2005
World Organization for Animal Health, Terrestrial Animal Health Code
Reeve CL, Spitzmüller C, Rogelberg SG, Walker A, Schultz L, Clark O. Employee reactions and adjustment to euthanasia-related work: Identifying turning-point events through retrospective narratives. J Appl Anim Welf Sci 2004;7:1–25.
Federal Institute for Health Consumer Protection and Veterinary Medicine. The suitability of disposable spinal-cord pithing guns as a tool in the humane killing of cattle. Bundesinstitut für gesun dheitlichen Verbraucherschutz und Veterinämedzin=BgVV, April 9, 2001.