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Policy#: 529-348

Title: ANIMAL USE GUIDANCE: Euthanasia of Wildlife in Emergency Situations

Effective: 9/16/2021



According to the Guide: “Euthanasia is the act of humanely killing animals by methods that induce rapid unconsciousness and death without pain or distress. Unless a deviation is justified for scientific or medical reasons, methods should be consistent with the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia.” This statement is repeated in PHS Policy, “methods of euthanasia used will be consistent with the recommendations of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia, unless a deviation is justified for scientific reasons in writing by the investigator.”

The IACUC is responsible for oversight of live vertebrate animal activities, including field euthanasia. The IACUC must ensure that proposed studies are in accord with the Guide and that exceptions to euthanasia methods in the AVMA Guidelines are case-specific and noted as acceptable or acceptable with conditions in approvals.

Related Policies and Guidance

  • Policy 529-227: Agents for Anesthesia, Analgesia and Euthanasia
  • Policy 529-251: Policy on Training of Animal Users
  • Policy 529-331: Cervical Dislocation
  • Policy 529-332: Decapitation

It is the responsibility of the PI to ensure that all personnel receive the appropriate training and maintain documentation for the laboratory-specific training in their lab, per Policy 529-251: Policy on Training of Animal Users (


The IACUC recognizes that in wildlife studies, emergency euthanasia involves situations typically not found under laboratory conditions. Therefore, the euthanasia methods in the field may not be the same as those used in the laboratory and researchers should be trained in the most appropriate field methods for the animals likely to be trapped or otherwise influenced by an AUP (i.e., including non-target species inadvertently captured during field work, as well as the target species). When an animal has been injured in the field during capture or handling, the most humane form of euthanasia may be the quickest means at hand. Investigators should consult with the Campus Veterinarian if they are unsure of the criteria for when emergency euthanasia should be performed in the field.
The proposed forms of euthanasia for study target species and non-target species that may be captured during the research must be clearly stated in the AUP. An investigator must provide scientific reasons for any deviation from the euthanasia methods recommended in the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals (  

As stated in “Guidance 529-211: Permits Involving the Capture of Wild Animals,” the investigator must obtain all appropriate permits, such as from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and adhere to any permit conditions relevant to emergency euthanasia (such as reporting requirements).
Safety of the personnel and animals is a primary consideration when choosing the euthanasia method to be conducted in the field. Investigators should consider the following points when choosing the appropriate method:
  • For physical methods of euthanasia, appropriate restraint is essential to properly and safely administer that method.
  • Some animals may pose a risk from infectious diseases, such as zoonotic diseases, or because of aggressive behavior. For example, rabies is a potential risk when working with bats, so physically restraining the animal for a physical method would pose a risk to human health and therefore other methods may be more appropriate.
  • The availability of necessary drugs and/or equipment in the field to perform those methods safely and effectively.
  • The training for the personnel administering the proposed method. individuals should be proficient in the euthanasia methods listed in the research project for a contingency or planned euthanasia. Additional considerations include the individual’s knowledge of the species, the knowledge of the conditions under which euthanasia would be required, and understanding the mechanisms of producing a humane death while ensuring an efficient and purposeful euthanasia.
Disposition of the carcasses and consideration of the potential impact on the environment are important factors to consider when selecting a method of euthanasia. The investigator should evaluate if the carcass can be disposed of in the field (e.g. by burial) or if a different disposition method more appropriate. If the carcasses are left in the environment, the impact of secondary toxicities associated with chemical methods of euthanasia on other animals, such as scavengers, should be evaluated.
Emergency euthanasia methods must be done appropriately and quickly to meet those veterinary medical ethics and ensure that pain and distress is minimized. During experiments in the field involving the capture and handling of wildlife, the following rapid methods of emergency euthanasia are acceptable:
  1. Cervical dislocation for small mammals and birds (<200g in general; rabbits <1kg) (see Policy 529-331: Cervical Dislocation).
  2. Decapitation for small reptiles and amphibians (see Policy 529-332: Decapitation).
Other rapid methods for emergency euthanasia of wildlife will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the IACUC.  


  1. AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals, 2020.
  2. The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, 8th edition, 2011.
  3. Thompson, T. and Morse, B. Field Euthanasia Methods for Wildlife. OLAW. March 19, 2018. Webinar

Approved: 8/13/07; 8/16/2021