Veterinarians are fully dedicated to the protection of animals' health and welfare, but there are times when they need to make the difficult decision to end an animal’s life. It's one of the most challenging tasks for a veterinarian, especially during a crisis or emergency, when ― depending on the situation ― hundreds to thousands of animals may be affected.
To help guide those making these difficult decisions, and to provide some direction to help ensure they are carried out as humanely as possible under desperate, extraordinary circumstances, the AVMA convened and gathered input from more than 60 subject matter experts, including an ethicist and observers from the US Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health, to develop and publish the AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals. The work of the Panel on Depopulation was funded through a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Agriculture, and the resulting guidelines were released in April 2019.
These guidelines support advanced planning for possible emergency situations, including natural disasters like floods, fires, and earthquakes; non-natural disasters, such as terrorism, war, or toxic chemical spills; contagious animal diseases; and zoonotic or pandemic disease. The guidelines clearly convey that depopulation is only to be carried out in response to serious emergencies or crises; and that animals should not be depopulated under ordinary circumstances.
The AVMA is a medical and scientific organization. While we have established these guidelines and expect those who use them will do so thoughtfully and appropriately on the very rare occasions where their use will be necessary, we are not a regulatory agency and we have no oversight for how they are implemented. To best understand how to use the guidelines, we encourage you to watch this one-hour webinar on AVMA Axon.
Depopulation is a complicated and sensitive topic and research is ongoing to find better ways. We are always learning and the AVMA's guidelines correspondingly undergo regular review by the members of our Panel. Science-based recommendations from members of the veterinary profession are welcomed and will be considered by the Panel as part of its regular review process.
View the AVMA guidelines for the depopulation of animals: 2019 (PDF)