AVMA finalizing depopulation guidelines

Document to help reduce suffering during crises
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The AVMA's guidance on emergency animal depopulation is in editing following a draft's approval.

The guidelines are intended to minimize animal suffering and distress in instances when depopulation is required because of a disaster. In April, the AVMA Board of Directors voted to approve the 300-page draft text, which is undergoing revisions ahead of publication. The AVMA hopes to publish the document by the end of the year.

AVMA Board of Directors and CEO
AVMA Board of Directors members and staff are shown during an April meeting in Schaumburg, Illinois. Those shown at the front table are Drs. Arnold Goldman, treasurer; Michael Whitehair, Board chair; Janet Donlin, AVMA CEO; Karen Bradley, District I director; and Lori Teller, District VIII director. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

The new guidance document contains recommendations for depopulating companion animals; laboratory animals; horses; farmed animals, including aquatic animals; and wildlife.

Dr. Gail Golab, the AVMA's chief veterinary officer, said in a presentation to the Board ahead of the vote that the AVMA's existing guidelines on euthanasia are cited in federal and state laws, and she expects the depopulation guidelines will help veterinarians, industry, and government officials make plans and decisions.

The Department of Agriculture contributed about $36,000 toward development of the depopulation guidelines.

The guidelines recognize that eliminating all animal pain and distress may not be possible during a disaster. However, they emphasize that acceptable methods of depopulation must involve humane handling and best efforts to ensure rapid loss of consciousness or loss of brain function.

"When the absence of pain and distress cannot always be achieved, depopulation must still be guided by balancing the ideal/ethical impulse of minimal pain and distress with the reality of the environment in which depopulation must occur," the draft document states. "These Guidelines are part of a triad of documents on humane killing—the other two being the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2013 Edition and the AVMA Guidelines for the Humane Slaughter of Animals: 2016 Edition."

Preferred methods listed in the draft document are similar to those used to euthanize or slaughter animals. The draft also lists methods considered acceptable when constraints apply and those that are not recommended but may be necessary under rare circumstances.

Dr. Golab said the volunteers who created the document decided against saying those nonrecommended methods are unacceptable. The draft indicates some situations, such as building collapses or radiologic contamination, could require using those methods because other methods are precluded, and doing nothing would increase animal suffering.

Veterinarians and others involved in depopulation face challenges in balancing rapid response needs, animal welfare obligations, and human safety, the draft states. Limitations may involve equipment, expertise, biosecurity, money, and time.

The draft also encourages consideration of the psychological and emotional effects of depopulation on the people killing the animals and public sentiment.

The AVMA's efforts to produce the depopulation guidelines included convening a panel with species-specific expertise, an ethicist, and nonvoting representatives from USDA Veterinary Services and the National Institutes of Health Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, as well as working groups together consisting of more than 50 volunteers. The Association also sought comments from members.

Related JAVMA content:

Member comment sought on draft guidelines for depopulation (March 1, 2017)