AVMA releases first-ever guidelines for depopulation of animals

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has published its first ever Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals to help veterinarians support animal welfare in situations where the difficult decision to depopulate has been made.

“From past experience we know that doing nothing can result in greater animal suffering and endanger animal caretakers and rescuers. Depopulation sometimes may be the most humane and compassionate response to a catastrophe,” AVMA said in a news release.

Depopulation balances the need to respond quickly and prevent further devastation with the most humane method of death possible in response to urgent circumstances, such as a natural disaster, hazardous disease outbreak or terrorist incident, AVMA explained.

The new AVMA guidelines aim to ensure that as much consideration is given to animal welfare as practicable within the constraints of an emergency. To ensure the best possible welfare for animals during crises, the guidelines support advance planning for possible emergency situations.

For the swine section of the guidelines, AVMA consulted with Peggy Anne Hawkins, DVM; Robert Meyer, DVM; Alejandro Ramirez, DVM, PhD,; Patricia V. Turner, DVM and Sherrie Webb, MS.

“There are certain incidents where the rapid destruction of a population of swine must occur in response to urgent circumstances with as much consideration given to the welfare of the swine as practicable,” the guidelines explain.

These include regulatory, nonregulatory (highly pathogenic), emerging and zoonotic diseases, as well as radiologic exposures or natural disasters. The guidelines also address time constraints, worker safety, ownership, indemnity, public perception, population and animal size, carcass removal and disposal and many other considerations when depopulating a swine herd.

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

According to AVMA, the 93-page guidelines document represents the work of more than 70 volunteers, including multidisciplinary and experienced experts in veterinary medicine, animal ethics, and animal science. The AVMA Panel on Depopulation, which spearheaded development of the guidelines, was funded through a cooperative agreement with the USDA.