Home: Euthanasia

Euthanasia By Cait McKeown


Chloroform: This method seems to have been agreed upon as humane by many breeders of rats and mice and by labs. However, laboratories do not use this method due to ‘hazard to personnel’; in other words, the chemical can also be harmful to people if not used properly. When I say harmful, basically this boils down to the fact that enough chloroform can produce unconcsiousness and even death in humans as well as small animals.

Used in a well-ventilated area (usually outside) wearing protective clothing/gloves some breeders still use this form of euthanasia. A small amount of chloroform is poured into a sealable container (e.g. a coffee jar). The lid of the jar is then screwed on firmly without the mouse being present to allow the fumes to build up. After a few minutes the lid is taken off, the chloroform covered with wood shavings and the mouse placed on the shavings before firmly replacing the lid. Unconsciousness soon occurs and in a matter of seconds the mouse will stop breathing and its heart will stop beating. The mouse is then left in the container for at least another five minutes to ensure that it has passed on.

Chloroform burns when it comes into contact with the skin and therefore it must not be allowed to touch the mouse. This is why wood shavings are used as a covering. Since chloroform is a potentially harmful substance (and can also be fatal to humans in larger amounts) it is not available to most people. Breeders usually tend to get it through other breeders or friends who work or have worked at laboratories and at vets’ practices.

Carbon Dioxide: On first looking into this method I was told by two breeders that using carbon dioxide was like suffocating the animal to death, which immediately put me off despite the recommendations by various articles and institutes’ guidelines found on the Internet. Since then others have informed me that carbon dioxide will produce unconsciousness before death in a peaceful way (this has happened to humans as well). Obviously this is a hard thing to tell unless you have experienced it yourself. Some methods may look painless but actually not be painless at all. In the case of carbon dioxide, this seems to depend on the ratio of oxygen to CO2 present. One lady that works in an animal shelter told me that she had witnessed and performed euthanasia with carbon dioxide and would 'not recommend anyone use it for their pet'. However, a lot does depend on expertise of the person performing the euthanasia.

For more information please read the discussion on the subject.

Decapitation: Some laboratories employ this method but it is not a method used by vets and those considering euthanasia for pets. Basically, decapitation involves removing the animal’s head with one hard clean sweep of a sharp bladed instrument. A messy and upsetting method and not one I would even contemplate. Only to be done by professionals as getting this wrong will cause lots of pain and suffering for the animal.

Halothane/Anaesthetic Gas: An overdose of anaesthetic gas is often applauded as a pain free method. It allows the animal to gently drift off to sleep before the breathing stops and the heart stops beating. Vets have the means to perform this type of anaesthesia very easily and should happily use this method by request (as opposed to an injection to the heart or other method). Make sure that you request this method specially, as many vets will first opt for the injection to the heart.

Injection to the Heart: This is the method that many vets use. However, it is not painless – quite the opposite, even though vets will not often make people aware that there are other options available to them. An injection into the heart is quite difficult to do properly in a small animal such as a mouse. The danger is that the person injecting the animal will miss and inject another organ and cause pain; it can also be the case that the injection will go into a lung and the mouse will drown. Even when a vet is experienced enough to perform the injection properly it will not be a nice experience for your pet. Sometimes a mouse can even need a second injection when the first does not take effect, prolonging the suffering.

Breaking the Neck: This is also known as cervical dislocation. Unfortunately this is another way that some breeders choose to cull ‘unwanted’ mice. I think this method, although quick, is inhumane. For a start, it would be easy to do it wrong even if you were experienced and cause the mouse a lot of pain and suffering. Secondly, the violent nature is something that most people would shy away from, preferring to let their mouse ‘go to sleep’ and just not wake up.

Freezing: As far as I’m aware this is only used to cull pinkies (very young mice with no fur). Some people who have had near-death experiences by hypothermia will testify to the fact that it is very painful to suffer this way until you become numb or unconscious, while others disagree. I would hope that nobody would even consider this as an option for an adult mouse. It may be an option for pinkies who will lose body heat very quickly, as CO2 and other gases do not work very well on mice under 2 weeks old.

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