State Advocacy Issue

 State Laws Governing Euthanasia

Chart last updated February 2015

This is a summary of statutory and regulatory provisions that AVMA is aware addressing the euthanasia of companion animals. A survey of the 50 states' euthanasia laws reveals that several states allow non-veterinarians to perform euthanasia on companion animals. In most cases, the euthanasia technicians, as they are often times referred, are required to undergo a certain number of hours of training before being allowed to perform euthanasia on animals. However, in a few states even non-certified employees of animal shelters are allowed to perform the procedure with minimal training.

Animal shelters, animal control agencies, and humane societies in several states may obtain a permit to possess the chemicals used for the euthanasia of companion animals, in addition to veterinary clinics. Often times a state has established procedures for the storage of the chemicals, and in some cases, a state requires a licensed veterinarian or certified euthanasia technician to be on staff in order to receive a permit.

The method of euthanasia is fairly standard across the 50 states, with most states authorizing the injection of sodium pentobarbital or a similar agent. However, some states allow the use of carbon monoxide chambers, often mandating that the animals must be of a certain age. Some states, such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, specifically prohibit euthanasia of companion animals by means of a gas chamber or carbon monoxide.

Several states have enacted laws on "emergency" euthanasia. In those states, law enforcement officers, animal control agents, veterinarians, or other designated persons may shoot or otherwise euthanize an animal in an emergency if deemed to be dangerous, injured, or sick beyond treatment. In most states, that determination must be made not only by the person performing the euthanasia, but also by one or more witnesses. Additionally, in those cases the owner generally must be considered as "unavailable" before the animal can be euthanized.

Click on the link below to view a summary of each state's laws on euthanasia. Some states have extensive laws covering the procedure and method to be used, while others have little or no laws or regulations directly on point. 

View summary of each state's laws on euthanasia​ (PDF)

Source:   Staff research, AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Department
Contact:  State Policy Analyst​, AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department