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AVMA releases first-ever guidelines for depopulation of animals

The American Veterinary Medical Association (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.

“From past experience we know that doing nothing can result in greater animal suffering and endanger animal caretakers and rescuers.

Depopulation sometimes may be the most humane and compassionate response to a catastrophe,” AVMA said in a news release.

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.

The new AVMA guidelines aim to ensure that as much consideration is given to animal welfare as practicable within the constraints of an emergency. To ensure the best possible welfare for animals during crises, the guidelines support advance planning for possible emergency situations.

Focus on poultry

For the poultry section of the guidelines, AVMA consulted with Jeff Erickson, DVM; Eric Benson, PhD; Michael Czarick III, MS; Brian Fairchild, PhD; Michelle Kromm, DVM; Maureen Lee-Dutra, DVM, Beth S. Thompson, JD, DVM; Bruce Webster, PhD; Eric Willinghan, DVM; and Kenneth Anderson, PhD.

Following the 2014-2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza, “USDA and industry stakeholders agreed that one of the most critical problems was that the delay in depopulating infected poultry exacerbated the amount of virus ultimately shed and released into the environment,” the guidelines reported.

“For this reason, the goal should be for all poultry at the impacted facility to be depopulated within 24 to 48 hours after a presumptive positive classification.”

According to AVMA, the 93-page guidelines document represents the work of more than 70 volunteers, including multidisciplinary and experienced experts in veterinary medicine, animal ethics, and animal science. The AVMA Panel on Depopulation, which spearheaded development of the guidelines, was funded through a cooperative agreement with the USDA.

“Humanely ending the lives of animals is one of the most difficult, but necessary, tasks for veterinarians to oversee,” said Steven Leary, DVM, 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.”





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