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 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.