During the creation of the 2013 edition of the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals, the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia identified a need for two companion documents addressing conditions under which animals might need to be killed humanely, but that may not lend themselves to techniques currently meeting all the criteria described for euthanasia. The panel determined that separate guidelines were needed to address the depopulation of animals and humane slaughter of animals. ​​

The first-ever AVMA Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals were made available for review and comment by AVMA members in 2017 and released in final form in April 2019. They represent the first detailed guidance the AVMA has provided relative to depopulation, which refers to the large-scale rapid destruction of multiple animals in response to an emergency situation.

Drafted by the AVMA Panel on Depopulation and its working groups, the guidelines address depopulation starting from the point at which a decision to depopulate has been made.

Consistent with the AVMA's approach to euthanasia, the guidelines reflect the AVMA’s concern for the ethical treatment of animals at all stages of life. The guidelines aim to ensure as much consideration is given to animal welfare as practicable within the constraints of an emergency event, such as a natural disaster, hazardous zoonotic disease outbreak, terrorist activity, or radiological incident. To ensure the best possible animal welfare, the guidelines support advanced planning for possible emergency situations and provide guidance for making decisions during an emergency.