AVMA unveils guidelines for animal depopulation

April 4, 2019

Should the unthinkable occur, the AVMA offers guidance for veterinary professionals on the best ways to cull large numbers of animals quickly, efficiently and humanely.

Marc Andreu / stock.adobe.comWe may not like to think about it, but the fact is that an act of terrorism, a natural disaster, a pandemic or some other catastrophe could strike anytime, anywhere. To ensure that veterinarians are prepared to destroy large numbers of animals should the need arise, the AVMA has published its first guidelines for mass animal depopulation.

Depopulation, defined in the guidelines as “the destruction of animals in an emergency situation in as humane a manner as possible,” balances two parallel needs: to respond promptly and prevent further devastation in calamitous situations while ensuring the most compassionate death possible. Past experience proves that doing nothing during a crisis can ultimately cause greater animal suffering, endangering animal caretakers and rescuers in the process, the AVMA states in a media release.

Large-scale emergencies can affect veterinarians in every field of practice, and advance planning is imperative to achieve the best outcomes. The goal of the guidelines is to ensure that animal welfare is given the utmost priority within the constraints of an emergency, minimizing animal distress, anxiety and pain as much as possible. The guidelines outline the most appropriate methods, techniques and agents to eradicate populations of every type of animal, from companion animals to laboratory animals, farm animals, aquatic animals and wildlife while ensuring public safety and following all applicable laws, the AVMA states.

“Humanely ending the lives of animals is one of the most difficult, but necessary, tasks for veterinarians to oversee,” says Steven Leary, DVM, DACLAM, chair of the AVMA Panel on Depopulation, in the release. “During times of crisis or major catastrophe, depopulation of affected animals may sometimes be the most ethical and compassionate action.”

The guidelines round out the organization's Humane Endings guidance, a triad of documents on humane killing that also includes the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals (2013) and the AVMA Guidelines for the Humane Slaughter of Animals (2016).

More than 70 experts in veterinary medicine, animal ethics and animal science collaborated to produce the guidelines, the creation of which was funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the release states.

View the complete guidelines here.