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Veterinary Handbook Contents

9.2 Issues For Euthanasia

9.2.1 Animal Welfare

Consideration of an animal’s welfare and level of pain and distress are most important when deciding whether or not to euthanise an animal. Where it is a clear cut decision that a sick or injured animal should be euthanised, the animal should be killed humanely without delay. Sometimes animals may be monitored closely to determine progression of a condition and response to changes in management and treatment. If the response is unsatisfactory in seriously sick or injured animals, then the animal should be euthanised without delay. Once the decision has been made to euthanise an animal it is important to:
  • Handle animals quietly and calmly taking care to avoid inadvertently subjecting them to unnecessary fear or pain.
  • Involve only the minimum number of people required to carry out the task safely and effectively. Bystanders should be asked to leave and the procedure should be kept from public view.
  • Death should come quickly and painlessly.
  • Death should be confirmed systematically every time, to ensure beyond doubt that the animal is dead before disposing of it. How Does Death Occur?

An animal dies as a result of physical disruption or deprivation of oxygen to the brain. Physical disruption is achieved by trauma to the head. Deprivation of oxygen is achieved by causing the respiratory or circulatory systems to fail, thereby preventing oxygen being carried to the brain by the blood. Thus, euthanasia of animals involves one or a combination of methods resulting in physical disruption or deprivation of oxygen to the brain.

9.2.2 Options For Euthanasia

The options available in the livestock export process are as follows:

  • Gunshot to the brain.
  • Captive bolt to the brain that is followed by bleeding or pithing.
  • In newborns only (<24h old), trauma to the brain with a blunt object, that might be followed by bleeding (exsanguination).
  • In sheep and goats, bleeding by cutting the throat, if a captive bolt or firearm are unavailable.
  • Overdose of anaesthetic.

These are referred to as primary methods. However they are only an option if they are done in the right way at the right time. Note that the brain must be targeted.

Follow-up methods may be used after a primary method. They are used when the primary method may have only rendered the animal unconscious (i.e. only stunning the animal). These include:
  • Repeat the procedure in a different anatomical location at a different angle (if primary method was gunshot, captive bolt or blunt trauma).
  • Bleeding (following all the other primary methods).
  • Pithing (if primary method was captive bolt).

Methods of euthanasia that are unacceptable for sheep, goats and cattle include:

  • Suffocation.
  • Drowning.
  • Electrocution.
  • Injection of air into a vein.
  • Injection of chemical not ordinarily used for euthanasia.
  • Leaving an animal to die naturally.