Euthanasia – Position Statement

July 16, 2014

Position

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that when animals are euthanized, death must be quick using a method that causes the least possible pain and distress.  The most appropriate method of euthanasia may vary depending on animal species, age, weight, temperament, and health status. 

Background

  1. Euthanasia is the act of inducing the humane death of an animal.
  2. Veterinarians have a responsibility to help guide animal owners in making end of life decisions and to ensure that the lives of animals are ended humanely.
    1.  Veterinarians should have appropriate procedures and protocols in place to achieve a ‘good death’ for their patients. 
    2. For food animal species and other non-companion animals, euthanasia plans should be developed under veterinary oversight, and include procedures to recognize sick animals, assess fitness for transport, develop end-point criteria and appropriate euthanasia techniques (1).  Whenever possible, veterinarians should perform the euthanasia procedure.  Where this is not possible, dedicated staff should be trained to develop the necessary skills required to appropriately euthanize each species and class of animal under their care.
  3. Animals 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. 
    1. The experience, training, sensitivity, and compassion of the individual carrying out the procedure are critical (2-6). 
    2. Handling and movement of animals should be minimized.
      1. Animal restraint should be in accordance with animal welfare and operator safety requirements, and sufficient to facilitate effective euthanasia.
      2.  To minimize animal stress and ensure adequate restraint, sedation should be considered prior to euthanasia whenever appropriate.
      3. When feasible, sedation of fractious food animals and other non-companion animals is encouraged to minimize fear and risk of injury. 
      4. When restraint is required, euthanasia should follow with minimal delay (2-6).
  4. The use of neuromuscular blocking agents in horses should be restricted to anesthetized or unconscious animals (2).
  5. The intravenous injection of a concentrated barbiturate with prior sedation is widely considered to be the most humane method for euthanizing companion and many non-domestic animals.  It causes a comparatively aesthetic death, is rapid-acting, reliable, and effective.  Euthanasia with barbiturates must be done by a licensed veterinarian or registered animal health/veterinary technologist working under the direction and control of a veterinarian. Care must be taken to ensure that animals euthanized with barbiturates are disposed of in a responsible manner since such animals can be a significant source of environmental toxicity.  Improper care of animal remains may result in the illness and death of scavenging animals (2-6).
  6. Veterinarians should assist companion animal owners to assess quality of life for the animal in question to determine the suitability of treatment or euthanasia. Because euthanasia decisions in companion animal practice can be highly emotional and stressful for the animal owner, veterinarians should strive to raise concerns about quality of life early on when animal condition begins to deteriorate and to use sensitivity when discussing end of life planning and euthanasia.
  7. The CVMA believes that euthanasia is not desirable as a sole means of population control, but recognizes that euthanasia is still necessary for unwanted animals that cannot be placed in new homes (7). 
    1. The CVMA encourages veterinarians, animal shelters, and governments to work together to ensure that optimal methods of euthanasia are used in all animal shelters, pounds, and animal hospitals. 
    2. Some methods currently used by shelters such as gas euthanasia or T61 injection are technically difficult to perform humanely and should be discouraged unless performed by appropriately trained and supervised individuals (8,9).
  8. Performing euthanasia can be emotionally and psychologically stressful.  Veterinarians and their staff should be aware that they may be at risk for traumatic stress (e.g. compassion fatigue of ‘burnout’) and take preventive measures to mitigate this risk (10). 

References:

The CVMA continues to actively review the literature on this most important subject and supports the recommendations made in the following documents:

  1. Turner PV, Doonan G. Developing on-farm euthanasia plans. Can Vet J. 2010 September; 51(9): 1031–1034.
  2. AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia – American Veterinary Medical Association.  June 2007.  Available from: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf Last accessed February 10, 2012.
  3. CCAC Guidelines on: euthanasia of animals used in science.  The Canadian Council on Animal Care. 2010. Available from: http://www.ccac.ca/Documents/Standards/Guidelines/Euthanasia.pdf  Last accessed December 13, 2013.
  4. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Position Statement on Pest Control, March 2003.  Available from: http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/pest-control   Last accessed December 13, 2013.
  5. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, Position Statement on Trapping of Fur-Bearing Animals, Feb 2012.  Available from:  http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/trapping-of-fur-bearing-animals Last accessed Dec 13, 2013.
  6. World Organization for Animal Health, Terrestrial Animal Health Code, 2013,  Available from: http://www.oie.int/index.php?id=169&L=0&htmfile=sommaire.htm.  Last accessed December 13, 2013.
  7. 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.
  8. Caffrey N, Mounchili A, McConkey S, Cockram M.  Survey of euthanasia practices in animal shelters in Canada.  Can Vet J. 2011 January; 52(1): 55-61.
  9. Themens ME. Euthanasia training in New Brunswick animal shelters – A cooperative approach. Can Vet J. 2008 September; 49(9): 909–912.
  10. Whiting TL, Marion CR. Perpetration-induced traumatic stress – A risk for veterinarians involved in destruction of healthy animals.  Can Vet J. 2011 July; 52(7): 794–796.

 (Revised July 2014)