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Euthanasia

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Ratification Date: 10 Aug 2007

Policy

The attending veterinarian must recommend euthanasia for an animal if the animal is suffering and that suffering is not able to be adequately minimised or managed. Euthanasia is the act of inducing humane death with the minimum of pain, fear or distress to the animal involved. It is most often used with terminally unwell or injured animals, where the prognosis is considered hopeless, and should also be considered for animals with intractable behaviour problems.

Background

Suffering of an animal

‘The veterinary surgeon is in a unique position in being able to express an informed opinion of animal suffering and in being able to assess and advise on the relief of pain and suffering in animals. Veterinary surgeons should have empathy for animals and are trained to recognise signs of disease in animals. Furthermore, through our knowledge of comparative biology and animal behaviour, we are able to compare and evaluate the significance of various signs of pain and distress exhibited by different species.’ (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, December 2003.)

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia has as number of definitions, including:

  • ‘the process of inducing a painless death’ (ANZCCART 2001)
  • ‘the humane killing of an animal, in the interests of its own welfare, to alleviate pain and distress’ (NHMRC 2004)
  • ‘a gentle death … regarded as an act of humane killing with the minimum of pain, fear and distress’ (European Commission 1996).

The necessary killing of animals for other reasons (see below) should not be confused with euthanasia, although the methods used and the principles to apply are the same.

When is euthanasia used?

Euthanasia is used:

  • when pain, distress or suffering are likely to exceed manageable levels
  • when the health or welfare of animals is irredeemably compromised; this can include animals affected by drought or other natural disasters.
Humane killing for other reasons

Humane killing is also used:

  • for research animals, at the end of studies
  • in research, to provide tissues for scientific purposes
  • when animals are no longer required for breeding or other specific purposes
  • for control of vertebrate pests
  • for slaughter of stock at abattoirs
  • for strays and unwanted pets that cannot be rehomed.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Marine mammal euthanasia

Use of euthanasia drugs by lay operators

Humane slaughter

References

  1. ANZZCART (Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching) (2001). Euthanasia of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes, 2nd edition, Riley JS (ed), ANZCCART, Adelaide. https://www.adelaide.edu.au/ANZCCART/docs/euthanasia.pdf (Accessed 12 October 2019).
  2. European Commission (1996). Euthanasia of experimental animals, part 1. Laboratory Animals 30:293–316. 
  3. NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) (2004). Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, 7th edition, NHMRC, Canberra. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-code-care-and-use-animals-scientific-purposes
  4. Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2005). The Ethics of Research Involving Animals. Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London. http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/The-ethics-of-research-involving-animals-full-report.pdf (Accessed 12 October 2019).

Date of ratification by AVA Board 10 August 2007