Confirmation of Death

Regardless of the method of euthanasia used, death must be confirmed before disposal of the animal. The following should be used to evaluate consciousness or confirm death.

  • Lack of a heartbeat
  • Lack of respiration
  • Lack of corneal reflex
  • Presence of rigor mortis

The presence of a heart beat can best be determined with a stethoscope placed under the left elbow. Please note that a pulse is usually not palpable under such circumstances and should not be used to confirm death. Movement of the chest indicates respiration but respiration rates may be very erratic or absent in unconscious animals. Therefore, one must be cautious in the interpretation of respiration for confirmation of death. One may test for evidence of a corneal reflex by touching the surface of the eyeball. Normal or conscious animals will blink when the eyeball is touched. Absence of a corneal reflex, failure to detect respiration, and absence of a heart beat for a period of more than 5 minutes should be used to confirm death. An alternative is to observe the animal over a period of several hours. Lack of movement, absence of a heartbeat, respiration, or corneal reflex over an extended period of time provides further confirmation of death.

Unacceptable Methods of Euthanasia

The following is a partial list of methods considered as “unacceptable” for euthanasia of livestock:

  • Manually applied blunt trauma to the head such as a large hammer
  • Injection of any chemical substance not labeled for use as a euthanasia agent
  • Injection of air into a vein
  • Electrocution as with a 120 or 220 volt electrical cord

Laws regarding acceptable methods of euthanasia vary from state to state.  Persons are advised to contact local and/or state legal authorities for further information.  A person convicted of violating these laws may be charged with a felony in some states.