Making a plan helps alleviate the stress of euthanasia

A detailed, written plan and standard operating practices are better for both the animals and staff

No one likes having to euthanize an animal, but it’s easier with a clear plan and proper protocols in place.

Part of that is using “end points” as recommended by Canadian Council of Animal Care, said Craig Wilkinson, a professor and director of animal care for the faculty of agriculture, life and environmental sciences at the University of Alberta.

Dr. Craig Wilkinson

Having a clear, detailed and written plan for euthanasia is part of responsible animal care, says Dr. Craig Wilkinson.
photo: Supplied

“End points are when a producer/researcher has to make a decision about alleviating actual/potential pain, discomfort or distress by removing the animal from the research trial or euthanizing it,” Wilkinson said during Alberta Pork’s recent monthly telephone town hall.

Every swine operation should designate people who are responsible for making observations and carrying out euthanasia in a timely matter. And respect for the animal should be a guiding principle, he said.

“The idea is that any euthanasia is as distress free and as pain free as possible and any methods selected should be based on those principles,” said Wilkinson.

Euthanasia methods need to be appropriate for the species and age of the animal, the death needs to be verified, and staff safety has to be a priority during the procedure.

The new swine code of practice recommends creating a thorough, written plan detailing standard operating practices to ensure that euthanasia is done in a consistent, careful manner. The plan should include who is going to make the decision about euthanasia, who will carry out the process, and when it should be done.

“It’s really important because that way you get a diligent, proactive application of euthanasia, and you follow the criteria early enough to avoid welfare concerns,” said Wilkinson.

“On the welfare side, it is better to err on the side of not euthanizing too late. This is really what planning is about — you need to do the best to determine the best time to do it, but know that there is no way to define the perfect time.”

The plan should describe methods based on the age and size of the animal and should include details about how the animal should be restrained. It should also include specific equipment needed for the process and how it will be properly maintained.

The code of practice includes a decision-making tree and Wilkinson urged all swine facility operators to look at it and discuss it with their staff. Steps include thinking about an animal’s treatment, its capacity to be transported, the economics of the situation, and how the carcass will be disposed of.

Animal restraints are a part of a good euthanasia practice and a proper site — far away from the other animals — should be set up. It should have snares, equipment storage and post-mortem equipment and needs to be easily washable, with a floor that drains well.

After the animal has been euthanized, staff should conduct a review and discuss if everything went well and according to plan.

The University of Alberta is home to the Swine Research Technology Centre, and staff there have been trying different captive bolts, said Wilkinson. The Zephyr captive bolt system requires a restraining device, but works well on small pigs. The Blitz and the Cash captive bolt systems are also effective, he said. While the Cash system is more expensive, it is more ergonomic and is better when repetitive use is necessary.

“Another thing that we have started to do in the past couple of years is sedate a lot of the animals prior to euthanasia, particularly the boars,” he said. “We want to make sure the euthanasia is as quiet and calm for those big animals, so we use a lot of sedation.”

Producers should discuss their euthanasia plans with their herd health vet, said Wilkinson.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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