CVMA | Documents | Humane Mass Depopulation of Animals - Position Statement

Humane Mass Depopulation of Animals - Position Statement

January 21, 2016


The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that when mass depopulation of animals is undertaken, methods used must result in rapid death or rapid loss of consciousness that persist until the time of death. Loss of consciousness should be accomplished by methods that minimize anxiety, pain, distress or suffering in animals (1). Mass depopulation protocols must be developed under veterinary oversight.

  1. Mass depopulation methods are employed in situations where large numbers of animals must be killed, for example for disease control purposes, as a consequence of natural disasters, or at the end of a production cycle (e.g. table eggs laying hens).
  1. In all cases, mass depopulation methods must be humane (2). Livestock producers should only employ depopulation methods recommended by provincial or national regulatory authorities, as applicable.
  1. Outbreaks of certain infectious animal diseases (e.g. Avian influenza, Foot and mouth disease, African swine fever) may result in emergencies that necessitate the containment, control and eradication of the causal agent by national or provincial veterinary or public health regulatory authorities using targeted depopulation of the infected animals on the infected premises as well as in some cases animals in close contact or proximity to those infected (3,4).
  1. All personnel involved in the mass depopulation of animals must be trained and supervised by persons who are experienced and competent in humane depopulation methods. Mass depopulation methods require considerable training, practice and expertise to be used appropriately.
  1. Operational procedures for mass depopulation must be adapted to the specific circumstances and must address the following:
  1. Killing methods employed must be the most appropriate for the species, size and age of animal to ensure rapid loss of consciousness with a minimum of fear, pain, or distress until death occurs. Other factors that must be taken into account include the location of the animals and type of housing, expertise of the operator, and human safety.
  2. Animal restraint must be sufficient to facilitate effective killing with consideration to animal welfare and operator safety requirements; when restraint is applied, killing must follow without delay (1).
  3. Mass depopulation procedures are subject to the applicable legal requirements including occupational health and safety regulations; and federal, provincial and municipal laws and ordinances of the relevant jurisdiction(s).
  1. Welfare aspects of mass animal depopulation can present communication challenges, especially in disease outbreak situations when alternative though perhaps less effective approaches might be suggested. Case studies of animal disease outbreaks and their subsequent management demonstrate the critical role that good communication plays in positively influencing public response to selected management strategies (4-7).
  1. Mass depopulation procedures can have profound emotional impact on some individuals. Veterinarians, veterinary paraprofessionals, and livestock owners/caregivers should be aware that they may be at risk for perpetration-induced traumatic stress and should seek support to mitigate this risk (8,9). Competent authorities should incorporate mechanisms to identify and manage impacts of traumatic stress in their mass depopulation action plans.


  1. World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Health standards, Terrestrial animals, Terrestrial Animal Health Code. Killing of animals for disease control purposes. Available from:  Last accessed October 7, 2015.
  1. AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals 2013 edition. Available from:  Last accessed October 7, 2015.
  1. Appelt M, Sperry J. Stunning and killing cattle humanely and reliably in emergency situations – A comparison between a stunning-only and a stunning and pithing protocol. Can Vet J 2007;48:529-534.
  1. Meuwissen MP, Horst SH, Huirne R, Dijkhuizen AA. A model to estimate the financial consequences of classical swine fever outbreaks: principles and outcomes. Prev Vet Med 1999:42(3), 249-270.
  1. UK Cabinet Office. FARMING & FOOD a sustainable future. Report of the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food January 2002. Available from: Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  2. Mercier I. Crisis and Opportunity, Devon Foot and Mouth Inquiry 2001. Devon Books 2002, Halsgrove House Lower Moor Way, Tiverton Devon EX16 6SS.
  3. Auditor General UK. The 2001 Outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease. REPORT BY THE COMPTROLLER AND AUDITOR GENERAL HC 939 Session 2001-2002: 21 June 2002, London. The Stationary Office. Available from:  Last accessed October 6, 2015.
  1. 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.
  2. Hibi J, Kurosawa A, Watanabe T, Kadowaki H, Watari M, Makita K. Post-traumatic stress disorder in participants of foot-and-mouth disease epidemic control in Miyazaki, Japan, in 2010. J Vet Med Sci 2015;77(8):953–959.

(Adopted November 2015)