September 28, 2021
The term ‘euthanasia’ has multiple definitions in the literature and is applied to a variety of different situations. The CVMA interprets the term as the act of humanely ending an animal’s life. This position refers to all species of animals and is relevant for all people who are involved in the euthanasia of an animal. This includes veterinarians, veterinary assistants, and others. Other related CVMA position statements include Humane Slaughter, referring to the ending of an animal’s life for consumption and Humane Mass Depopulation, referring to the ending of the lives of a group of animals.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) holds that when an animal is euthanized the method used must be appropriate for the species, reliable, humane and must minimize fear, pain, and distress.
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.
- Appropriate protocols for the species must be employed when euthanizing an animal.
- Appropriate handling, movement and physical restraint of animals is essential to reduce stress, be sufficient to facilitate effective euthanasia and meet safety requirements.
- The training, experience, sensitivity, and compassion of the individual(s) carrying out the procedure are critical to ensure a ‘good death’. In most circumstances, veterinary professionals should perform euthanasia procedures.
- Euthanasia (from the Greek meaning “a good death”) is the act of intentionally and humanely ending the life of an animal (1). This assisted death of an animal must be conducted in a manner that minimizes fear, pain, and distress.
- 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. Veterinarians should assist caretakers in assessing the animal’s quality of life and should outline options such as the suitability of treatment, palliative care and/or euthanasia. The option of euthanasia should be raised by the veterinarian if the veterinarian is of the opinion that it is appropriate, and the animal’s caretaker has not initiated that discussion.
- Sensitivity and compassion are essential for all individuals involved when discussing end of life planning and euthanasia.
- Veterinarians must develop and employ appropriate species-specific protocols for euthanasia. The method(s) must result in irreversible loss of consciousness and subsequent death which must then be verified. Rapid loss of consciousness during the procedure is preferred, but the rapidity of the method should not be prioritized over the need to prevent fear or distress (2,3). Handling, movement, and physical restraint of animals should endeavour to reduce stress but be sufficient to facilitate effective euthanasia and meet safety requirements. To achieve this balance, sedation is recommended prior to euthanasia in many cases and the duration and intensity of physical restraint is to be minimized.
- The CVMA holds that veterinarians must be involved in the development of euthanasia protocols of all vertebrate species, including farm animals, laboratory animals, companion animals, and non-companion animals (4).
- If the euthanasia is to be carried out without the presence of a veterinarian then species appropriate protocols developed by a veterinarian must be employed.
- The training, experience, sensitivity, and compassion of the individual(s) carrying out the procedure are critical to ensure a ‘good death’ (5-7). Veterinary professionals should perform euthanasia procedures. Where veterinary participation is not possible, personnel must be trained to recognize and respond to pain and distress, appropriately euthanize, and confirm death in each species and class of animal under their care (2,5,6,8-10).
- Performing euthanasia can lead to psychological stress. Veterinarians, their staff and personnel who regularly perform or witness euthanasia of animals should be aware that they may be at risk of psychological harm (e.g. compassion fatigue or ‘burnout’) and take preventive measures to mitigate this risk (11-13).
- On occasion, the opinions of a veterinarian and a caretaker differ with respect to the need to end an animal’s life.
- If the veterinarian is of the opinion that euthanasia is necessary to end suffering or for public safety reasons, and the caretaker refuses, then steps should be taken to resolve the situation in a timely manner. When an animal is in pain or distress that cannot be relieved and the differences of opinion cannot be resolved, contacting animal welfare law enforcement authorities may be appropriate (14,15).
- If the veterinarian is refusing the request to euthanize, the veterinarian should consider the welfare consequences for the animal and provide alternatives to their client.
It should be stated however that each circumstance is unique, and the parties are encouraged to work together to determine the most humane outcome.
- Persson K, Selter F, Neitzke G, Kunzmann P. Philosophy of a “Good Death” in Small Animals and Consequences for Euthanasia in Animal Law and Veterinary Practice. Animals. 2020; 10(1):124.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia of Animals (2020). Available from: https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/2020_Euthanasia_Final_1-15-20.pdf. Last accessed April 2021.
- Meyer R. E. Physiologic Measures of Animal Stress during Transitional States of Consciousness. Animals: an open access journal from MDPI. 2015;5(3):702–716. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4598702/. Last accessed April 2021.
- Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Position Statement on Use of Animals in Science (2016). Available from: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/use-of-animals-in-science-position-statement. Last accessed April 2021.
- Caffrey N, Mounchili A, McConkey S, Cockram M. Survey of euthanasia practices in animal shelters in Canada. Can Vet J. 2011;52(1):55-61. Available from: Survey of euthanasia practices in animal shelters in Canada (nih.gov). Last accessed April 2021.
- Themens ME. Euthanasia training in New Brunswick animal shelters – A cooperative approach. Can Vet J. 2008;49(9):909–912. Available from: Euthanasia training in New Brunswick animal shelters — A cooperative approach (nih.gov). Last accessed April 2021.
- Marchitelli, B. 2019. An Objective Exploration of Euthanasia and Adverse Events Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice. 2019;49(3):553–563.
- Turner PV, Doonan G. Developing on-farm euthanasia plans. Can Vet J. 2010;51(9):1031–1034. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920162/. Last accessed April 2021.
- The Canadian Council on Animal Care. CCAC Guidelines on: euthanasia of animals used in science (2010). Available from: http://www.ccac.ca/Documents/Standards/Guidelines/Euthanasia.pdf. Last accessed April 2021.
- World Organization for Animal Health. Terrestrial Animal Health Code (2019). Available from: https://www.oie.int/standard-setting/terrestrial-code/. Last accessed April 2021.
- Whiting TL, Marion CR. Perpetration-induced traumatic stress – A risk for veterinarians involved in destruction of healthy animals. Can Vet J. 2011;52(7):794–796. Available from: Perpetration-induced traumatic stress — A risk for veterinarians involved in the destruction of healthy animals (nih.gov). Last accessed April 2021.
- Ayl, K. When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession (2013). American Animal Hospital Association Press.
- Stoewen, DL. Suicide in veterinary medicine: Let’s talk about it. Can Vet J. 2015;56(1):89–92. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4266064/. Last accessed April 2021.
- Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. Position Statement on Responsibility of Veterinary Professionals in Addressing Animal Abuse and Neglect (2018). Available from: https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/responsibility-of-veterinary-professionals-in-addressing-animal-abuse-and-neglect-position-statement . Last accessed April 2021.
- College of Veterinarians of British Columbia. Euthanasia Guidelines (2018). Available from: https://portal.cvbc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Euthanasia-Guidelines.pdf. Last accessed April 2021.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Care at the End of Life. Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life. Field MJ, Cassel CK, editors. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997. PMID: 25121204.
((Revised July 2021))