The American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) has published its first ever "Guidelines for the Depopulation of Animals" to help veterinarians support animal welfare in situations where the difficult decision to depopulate has been made.
According to the announcement, these new AVMA guidelines are an important tool to help veterinarians make humane decisions in the most-dire situations. Because emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time, AVMA said this is vital guidance for veterinarians in every field of practice — from shelter medicine to agriculture, companion animal practice, zoos, public health and beyond.
"Humanely ending the lives of animals is one of the most difficult but necessary tasks for veterinarians to oversee," said Dr. Steven Leary, chair of the AVMA Panel on Depopulation. "During times of crisis or major catastrophe, depopulation of affected animals may sometimes be the most ethical and compassionate action."
The depopulation guidelines represent the third prong of AVMA's three-part "Humane Endings" guidance. The others are the "AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals" and the "AVMA Guidelines for the Humane Slaughter of Animals."
Depopulation balances the need to respond quickly and prevent further devastation with the most humane method of death possible in response to urgent circumstances, such as a natural disaster, hazardous disease outbreak or terrorist incident, AVMA explained.
AVMA said past experience has shown that doing nothing can result in greater animal suffering and endanger animal caretakers and rescuers; therefore, depopulation sometimes may be the most humane and compassionate response to a catastrophe.
The new AVMA guidelines aim to ensure that as much consideration is given to animal welfare as practicable within the constraints of an emergency, the announcement said. To ensure the best possible welfare for animals during crises, the guidelines support advance planning for possible emergency situations, which is essential to protect animal welfare and ensure the least possible animal suffering, AVMA said.
The depopulation guidelines represent the work of more than 70 volunteers, including multidisciplinary and experienced experts in veterinary medicine, animal ethics and animal science. They reflect AVMA's concern for the ethical treatment of animals at all stages of life and in all situations.
The AVMA Panel on Depopulation, which spearheaded development of the guidelines, was funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
AVMA, founded in 1863, is one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations in the world, with more than 93,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine.