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To SVME Members,

The AVMA has recently released updated AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals. Those guidelines can be viewed here:

AVMA guidelines for the euthanasia of animals

AVMA guidelines for the euthanasia of animals

The AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals provide veterinarians guidance in relieving pain and suffering...

Ethics are obviously very important to our profession as we each exercise our responsibilities in the treatment of animals during the end-of-life process. I would urge every veterinarian to be familiar with the updated guidelines.

In my own personal review of the guidelines, I observed what I considered to be an important omission in Section 18The Disposal of Animal Remains. I have submitted a letter to the editor of the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) describing the omission. A copy of my letter is below:

To the Editor:

The recently published AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition is an impressive and important document. It is with some trepidation that I offer a comparatively small criticism, but large in my professional experience.

The Guidelines Section 18 entitled Disposal of Animal Remains is incomplete. The Guidelines state that "Regardless of the euthanasia method chosen, animal remains must be handled appropriately and in accord with state and local law. Regulations apply not only to the disposition of the animal’s remains (eg, burial, incineration, rendering), but also to the management of chemical residues (eg, pharmaceuticals, [including but not limited to barbiturates, such as pentobarbital] and other residues, such as lead) that may adversely affect scavengers or result in the adulteration of rendered products used for animal feed."

The Guidelines in Section 18 provide detailed discussions of the various contamination risks associated with burial, incineration, rendering, and composting. However, there was no mention of the preferred method of remains treatment, alkaline hydrolysis (AH). Unlike the four detailed methods of remains treatment, AH destroys all pathogens including prions (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) and converts chemotherapy drugs and barbiturates to harmless, biodegradable derivatives. In addition, AH creates zero emissions and requires 90% less energy than flame cremation. Further, the effluent produced by AH is harmless to the environment and easily processed by municipal systems.

The utilization of alkaline hydrolysis has been rapidly expanding and is utilized extensively in every veterinary diagnostic laboratory in the United States as well as many companion animal practices. It is also approved for human funeral and aftercare purposes in nineteen states. AH devices and equipment are available to provide mortality management for every size animal. Portable units are available that can be transported to field locations whether for equine, bovine, or poultry flock applications. Because of the obvious advantages of AH, many veterinarians recommend it as a preferred choice over flame cremation, rendering or burial as an animal-remains treatment option.

It is also my opinion that the title of Section 18, Disposal of Animal Remains, ignored earlier Guidelines Section 15.5 cautionary advice which reminds the reader that “the depth of the emotional attachment between animals and their owners or caretakers requires an additional layer of professional respect and care beyond the ethical obligation to provide a good death for the animal.” Dr. Alice Villalobos, current President of the Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics (SVME), recently commented that “whenever (veterinary) staff members use the word, ‘disposal’, it reduces the pet's body to an unacceptable low level, on par with garbage or trash!”  Dr. Villalobos went on to explain, “we encourage veterinary team members to use kinder words such as “what options would you prefer regarding ‘arrangements’ for your pet's after-life body care?”

Guidelines Section 18 should have emphasized the importance of treating animal remains compassionately, respectfully, and ethically. It is essential that the recognition of the significance and importance of the human-animal bond continue through the entire, end-of-life event.

Respectfully submitted,

Kent A. Kruse, DVM

Test Recording: April 5 Monthly Membership Meeting (MMM) presented by Wendy Koch was “How the public (you!) can influence the writing of federal animal welfare regulations.”

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