Ratification Date: 10 Aug 2007
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.
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)
- ‘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:
- in research, to provide tissues for scientific purposes, or at the end of studies (NHMRC 2013)
- 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
- ANZCCART (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.
- European Commission (1996). Euthanasia of experimental animals, part 1. Laboratory Animals 30:293–316.
- NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) (2013). Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, 8th edition, NHMRC, Canberra. Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes | NHMRC (Accessed 7 January 2022)
- 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 7 January 2022).
- AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition. 2020-Euthanasia-Final-1-17-20.pdf (avma.org) (Accessed 7 January 2022).
Date of ratification by AVA Board 10 August 2007