Safety and humane killing of animals

Humanely killing animals can be associated with a number of different safety hazards, but the risk to individuals can be greatly reduced by following appropriate procedures, and ensuring that a local risk assessment has been conducted.

When killing animals with an overdose of volatile anaesthetic, exposure of personnel to volatile anaesthetic vapour must be avoided because of health and safety concerns. This can be achieved either by using active scavenging equipment that removes waste gas or by carrying out the procedure in a safety cabinet, with venting of the extract outside the building.

Spilling large quantities of volatile anaesthetic (e.g. by dropping a bottle of the agent) represents a significant safety hazard. If this occurs, it is important to leave the room immediately, prevent anyone else from entering, and then following locally agreed procedures to control the spillage. In a well-ventilated room, simply leave the room unoccupied with the door closed and wait a few hours for the anaesthetic to evaporate and the vapour to disperse.

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Compressed gas cylinders to provide a carrier gas (usually oxygen) to deliver the anaesthetic vapour are required, and these present manual handling issues, and require safe and secure storage. Check on local procedures before commencing work that requires use or handling of gas cylinders. The risk is limited locally by using gases piped from a central cylinder bank, or by use of an oxygen concentrator to provide a gas supply to an anaesthetic machine.

Inadvertent self-injection can have serious consequences (e.g. injection of a large quantity of ketamine being used to sedate a large animal, prior to euthanasia), but this is a relatively minor risk when handling the small quantities needed for euthanasia of rodents. Nevertheless, care should be taken when preparing material for injection, when carrying out the procedure and when disposing of syringes and needles.

A more important concern relates to the potential misuse of the anaesthetic agents as drugs of abuse, and they must be stored securely and records maintained of the quantities used.

When handling and restraining animals for euthanasia, there is a small risk of injury that is largely avoided by using appropriate methods. Transferring an entire cage of rodents into an exposure chamber eliminates this risk completely, as well as reducing stress to the animals. Bites, scratches, bruises and abrasions (from both animals and equipment) should be considered potential sources of infection and should be reported, recorded, and treated.

Updated on 16th June 2021

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