New AVMA guidelines help veterinarians implement depopulation humanely

Published on April 02, 2019

Humanely ending the lives of animals is one of the most difficult tasks for any veterinarian. During times of crisis or major catastrophe, emergency situations sometimes arise that prompt a decision to depopulate a whole group of animals. In the past when this has happened, veterinarians have had no formal guidance available to help implement these orders humanely.

That is no longer the case. The first-ever AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals are now available to help veterinarians support animal welfare in situations where the difficult decision to depopulate has been made. This new AVMA policy is an important tool to help veterinarians make humane decisions in the most dire situations. Because emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time, this is vital guidance for veterinarians in every field of practice – from shelter medicine to agriculture, companion-animal practice, zoos, public health, and beyond.

What is depopulation?

Depopulation refers to the rapid destruction of an animal population in response to urgent circumstances, such as a natural disaster, hazardous disease outbreak, or terrorist incident. Depopulation balances the need to respond quickly and prevent further devastation with the most humane method of death possible. Past crises have taught us 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.

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. This is essential to ensure the best possible protection of animal welfare and least possible animal suffering.

Expert guidance from your most knowledgeable peers

The AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals represent the work of more than 70 volunteers, including multidisciplinary and experienced experts in veterinary medicine, animal ethics, and animal science. They reflect the AVMA’s concern for the ethical treatment of animals at all stages of life and in all situations.

The AVMA Panel on Depopulation, which spearheaded development of the guidelines, was funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To best understand how to use the guidelines, we encourage you to watch this one-hour webinar on AVMA Axon.

The depopulation guidelines represent the third prong of the AVMA’s three-part Humane Endings policy series. The others are the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals and the AVMA Guidelines for the Humane Slaughter of Animals.

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