The veterinary profession has a special responsibility to animals during the final stages of their life.
For many people, their first thought when it comes to an animal's end of life is the care offered to a beloved companion animal after a serious injury or diagnosis of a terminal condition. Veterinarians have many options for palliative care and euthanasia of companion animals to help the owner make compassionate choices and offer animals the best quality of life possible and, where appropriate, a peaceful death.
The veterinary obligation also extends to the humane treatment of all animals killed for a range of purposes, including the depopulation of animals during an emergency and the slaughter of animals raised for food.
The role of the veterinary profession can be seen as falling into four main areas: human perspectives, animal end of life, humane killing techniques, and the disposition of remains.
End-of-life decision making
All AVMA guidance relating to humane endings aims to help those with a responsibility to animals to make informed and compassionate choices.
To promote clear communications between veterinarians and clients with companion animals, the AVMA provides brochures relating to euthanasia, pet loss and grief, and a model euthanasia authorization form.
Humane killing techniques
The AVMA Panel on Euthanasia first convened in 1963 to create guidelines for veterinarians who carry out or oversee the euthanasia of animals. As the guidelines have become increasingly influential, and in some cases recognized as a legal standard, their specificity and scope have broadened.
Now in its ninth edition, the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals covers a multitude of species and methods, and includes information about animals' physiologic and behavioral responses to euthanasia, euthanasia's effects on those performing and observing it, and the feasibility and impacts of various euthanasia approaches.
While preparing the 2013 edition of the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals, the Panel on Euthanasia determined that euthanasia, slaughter, and depopulation are distinct activities conducted in different environments with correspondingly different considerations for how animals are appropriately handled. As such, humane slaughter and depopulation are now addressed in separate guidance documents. The AVMA Guidelines for the Humane Slaughter of Animals provide guidance for veterinarians about how to prevent pain and distress in animals that have been designated for slaughter.
The AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals aim to help members of the veterinary profession make good decisions that support animal welfare in situations where the difficult decision to depopulate has been made. Funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the depopulation guidelines support advance planning by facilities to maximize their opportunity to use the best possible technique when depopulation is required – during emergency situations only, and when options are often highly constrained. To ensure the best possible animal welfare, the guidelines support advanced planning for possible emergency situations.