Sodium pentobarbital and pentobarbital combination products are commonly used by veterinarians throughout the US for euthanasia of their animal patients. The AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition lists barbiturate acid derivatives (pentobarbital) and pentobarbital combination products as an acceptable method of euthanasia for all species when circumstances permit their use. When using pentobarbital products, a veterinarian must consider appropriate handling and disposal of animal remains to avoid the potential for environmental contamination, relay toxicosis in wildlife or domestic animals, and contamination of the animal food supply. Failure to appropriately consider these facets of pentobarbital euthanasia can result in legal and ethical consequences. Despite these concerns, to the authors’ knowledge no comprehensive literature review has been published concerning pentobarbital euthanasia or handling and disposal of animal remains following pentobarbital euthanasia. The literature review that follows aims to give a descriptive narrative of the most recent information available on the knowledge, use, challenges, and issues surrounding pentobarbital euthanasia and disposal of animal remains within the US.
To address the limitations of traditional IACUC review of clinical research studies involving client-owned animals, the AVMA issued a policy describing the use of a veterinary clinical studies committee (VCSC), analogous to an institutional review board, as a way to ensure the adequate review and oversight of such studies. While IACUC composition, review, approval processes, and responsibilities are well established, uniform guidance for VCSCs is not readily available and not included in the guidance for IACUCs. In this manuscript we describe suggested best practices for scientific and ethical review of veterinary clinical research studies, regardless of the specific research setting. This resource complements the AVMA policy mentioned above by providing additional thoughts on aspects of VCSCs, including considerations necessary for the adequate review and oversight of clinical research studies using client-owned animals by VCSCs or IACUCs.
The veterinary profession has a unique responsibility to animals during the final stages of their lives. The veterinarian’s obligations extend to humane endings, involving all species of animals in a range of circumstances including, but not limited to, euthanasia of individually owned animals, euthanasia of animals for research purposes, depopulation of animals during emergencies, and slaughter of animals raised for food. The veterinary profession continues to improve animal welfare through advances in end-of-life decision-making and humane killing techniques,
but the psychological impacts on veterinarians have not received the same level of consideration. Building on the influential AVMA Humane Endings Guideline, the AVMA recognizes that support for the mental health of veterinarians engaged in such activities needs to be a priority. This article aims to provide the foundation and rationale for improved preparation and establishment of sustainable mental health resources and to offer recommendations on pragmatic solutions to support and prepare veterinary professionals as leaders impacted by participation in humane endings–related activities. While end-of-life decision-making and implementation may present mental health challenges to veterinarians, it is crucial to recognize that there are stressors specific to each situation and that every individual’s experience is valid. Addressing the mental health issues surrounding the decision-making process and implementation of humane endings activities start with a comprehensive understanding of each activity’s unique context and the veterinarian’s leadership role. Therefore, this article highlights the psychological impact of depopulation and its similarities and exclusive challenges compared with euthanasia and humane slaughter.
To assess (1) veterinarians’ knowledge and practices regarding disposal of euthanized animals, (2) the extent to which veterinarians communicate with their clients about potential risks of rendering pentobarbital-euthanized animals, and (3) the extent to which veterinarians communicate potential relay toxicosis and environmental risks of pentobarbital-euthanized animals to clients.
A stratified random sample of AVMA members.
Over a 3-week period in early 2021, 16,831 of the AVMA’s 99,500 members were surveyed, with 2,093 responses (a 12% response rate). Respondents were assigned to 1 of 3 categories on the basis of their answers: veterinarians euthanizing only food-producing species, veterinarians euthanizing only non–food-producing species, and veterinarians euthanizing both food-producing and non–food-producing species (ie, veterinarians euthanizing mixed species).
Veterinarians responding to this survey appeared to be aware of the major methods of animal disposal, and about 89% reported communicating the method of euthanasia with clients to help ensure appropriate animal disposal. However, the need for additional education on local, state, and federal laws and rendering, as well as on risks of relay toxicosis including wildlife predation and environmental impacts, was reported.
Survey results identified gaps in veterinarians’ knowledge regarding animal disposal following pentobarbital euthanasia. Further education on this topic may be beneficial, particularly for early- and midcareer veterinarians who euthanize non–food-producing species and for veterinarians who euthanize mixed species in urban and suburban communities.