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AVMA Updates Euthanasia Guidelines

New guidelines offer expanded advice for veterinarians on preferred methods

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) published the 2013 edition of the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals.  Led by a 13-member panel, more than 60 experts—including veterinarians, animal scientists, behaviorists, physiologists, psychologists and an ethicist—deliberated more than three years to create the 2013 Guidelines.

Since the first Panel on Euthanasia was convened 50 years ago, the AVMA Guidelines have helped veterinarians protect the welfare of animals by setting criteria for euthanasia and specifying appropriate methods and agents. As the Guidelines have become increasingly influential (and in some cases recognized as a legal standard), their specificity and scope have increased.

Specifically, the 2013 Guidelines acknowledge euthanasia as a process that involves more than just what happens to an animal at the time of its death. In addition to providing more information about techniques used for euthanasia across a broader range of species, this edition includes attention to ethical decision-making, provides detailed information about animals’ physiologic and behavioral responses to euthanasia, considers euthanasia’s effects on those performing and observing it, and takes into account the practicality and environmental impacts of various euthanasia approaches. 

“As we learn more about animals—their physiology and psychology—it’s important to update and sometimes change our approaches to euthanasia to ensure we

continue to protect their welfare as best as possible,” explained Dr. Steven Leary, chair of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia. “This was the most professionally diverse panel on the euthanasia of animals ever assembled. As a result, the latest update of our euthanasia guidelines offers much more depth and breadth of expertise in the affected species and the environments in which euthanasia is performed. Panel members take their responsibility extremely seriously because we recognize the AVMA Guidelines are used by everyone from veterinarians in private practice, to caretakers on farms and researchers in biomedical facilities, to law enforcement, to governmental regulators.”

The first edition of the AVMA’s highly respected, authoritative euthanasia guidelines was issued in 1963. With each update, the guidelines have reflected knowledge gained through advancements in research and practical experience. New in the 2013 edition are:

• Euthanasia methods for invertebrates and other lower-order species;

• Advice on humane handling of animals before and during euthanasia;

• Information on collection of animals for scientific investigations, handling injured wild animals, and removal of animals causing property damage or threatening human safety;

• Additional information about confirmation of death and disposal of animal remains; and

• Flowcharts, illustrations, tables and appendices that clarify recommendations.

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