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Policy#: 529-332

Title: ANIMAL USE PROCEDURE: Decapitation

Effective: 8/19/2021


Related Policies and Guidance

 This policy does not address the use of decapitation for emergency euthanasia in the field. See guidance on "Euthanasia of Wildlife in Emergency Situations” (

As a laboratory-specific animal training procedure, 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 (

Decapitation of ANESTHETIZED animals

Decapitation of anesthetized animals is an acceptable method of euthanasia for most small species and does not require a specialized scientific justification. 

In the protocol, investigators must provide details of the anesthesia used (chemical, dose, volume and route of injection), as well as clear methods for determining adequate depth of anesthesia prior to either cervical dislocation or decapitation.

Decapitation of UNANESTHETIZED animals

Decapitation of unanesthetized animals will only be approved for rodents, small rabbits, some reptiles, some fish, some amphibians and similar small species, with the following conditions:

·        A scientific justification explaining why anesthesia cannot be used must be provided in the protocol.

  • Acceptability of decapitation for reptiles, fish and amphibians will be determined on a species-by-species basis, dependent on size and morphology. The AUP must state the maximum size of the animal, as well as a description of the animal’s morphology and decapitation procedure.
  • Because the central nervous system of reptiles, fish, and amphibians is tolerant to hypoxic and hypotensive conditions, decapitation must be followed by pithing.
  • The protocol must identify the equipment that will be used. (Guillotines designed to accomplish decapitation in adult rodents and small rabbits in a uniformly instantaneous manner are commercially available; guillotines are not commercially available for neonatal rodents and lower vertebrates, but sharp blades can be used for this purpose). See related Policy 529-344.  Guillotine Maintenance and Training (
  • The protocol must state that individuals being trained in this procedure will practice on anesthetized animals until the trainer is confident in the trainee’s competence in this procedure.

Note: The use of plastic cones to restrain animals appears to reduce distress from handling, minimizes the chance of injury to personnel, and improves positioning of the animal in the guillotine.


Approved: 10/6/2008; latest revision 7/19/2021