Cattle Euthanasia

This video will help the viewer determine the most ideal time for euthanasia, and instruction on how to choose and perform appropriate euthanasia techniques.
Cattle Euthanasia - Videos


One of the toughest decisions livestock owners have to make when raising and caring for animals is deciding when euthanasia is the appropriate and humane choice.


Mastitis and Milk Quality Milking Equipment Performance Bovine Hoof Health On-farm Food Safety Epidemiology Dairy

More by Ernest Hovingh, DVM, PhD 

View Transcript

(calm ambient music)

- [Elizabeth] One of the toughest decisions livestock owners have to make when raising and caring for animals is deciding when euthanasia is the appropriate and humane choice.

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines euthanasia as a method of killing that minimizes pain, distress and anxiety experienced by the animal prior to loss of consciousness.

- Choosing euthanasia at an appropriate time can prevent unnecessary animal suffering, as well as economic loss for the owner.

It's better to euthanize a day too early than a day too late.

- When faced with the decision to send an animal to market or to euthanize her on the farm, there are several situations that would lead an animal owner to strongly consider euthanasia.

Those conditions include debilitation.

Debilitation is when injury, trauma or disease has left the animal unable to move or walk.

Quality of life, if the animal has a significant loss of production and quality of life due to advanced age or other factors such as disease, consider euthanasia.

Disease, an animal that has disease conditions for which no effective treatment is known or has a disease that is a threat to human health, should not be sent to market.

Inability to eat or drink.

An animal that is dehydrated and cannot eat or drink on their own is a candidate for euthanasia.

Medical treatment, if a euthanasia candidate has been treated with medicine that requires withdrawal time, this may be even more reason to consider euthanasia.

Animals that have been severely ill or in compromised health may require extended withdrawal times.

Consult your veterinarian to be sure.

- People responsible for the care of livestock should work with a veterinarian to establish clear decision-making guidelines to determine when euthanasia is the correct choice for an animal.

- [Elizabeth] Veterinarians have access to medical means of euthanasia.

While this is usually a more expensive option, it's highly effective and safe.

If a veterinarian is not going to be euthanizing the animal, the person responsible for the animal must be able to do so in a humane, effective and safe manner.

Regardless of animal size, there are two acceptable methods for humanely euthanizing livestock that do not involve drugs administered by a veterinarian.

These options include gunshot or the use of a captive bolt pistol.

With either method, it is important that the animal be properly restrained.

Quality and availability of cattle chutes, halters and gates should be considered when selecting the best method.

Whether you are using a gun or captive bolt, the location of the entry point is critical for the technique to be both effective and humane.

For cattle, the correct location for the entry point is on the forehead.

Imagine or draw two lines, each going from the outside corner of one eye to the base of the opposite horn.

The intersection of those two lines is the ideal entry point for the bullet or penetrating bolt.

The bullet or bolt should enter at a 90 degree angle to minimize the risk of ricochet and to maximize the chances of rendering the animal instantly insensible.

- If using the gunshot method, you must be certain to abide by all legal regulations when purchasing, carrying or discharging firearms.

Firearms should be stored safely and securely.

- Using a gun can be an effective and inexpensive method of euthanasia.

However, extreme safety measures must be followed.

The most significant risk when using a gunshot is the potential for the bullet to ricochet off the skull or to exit the other side.

This could be potentially fatal for any nearby people or animals.

Use extreme caution and follow all firearm safety guidelines.

When using the gunshot method, use these three practices.

For larger animals such as mature cattle, a .357 caliber or nine millimeter bullet is recommended for acceptable results.

The firearm should be held a few inches from the target site.

Choose a location that is out of public view and will be convenient for the disposal method you have planned.

Remember, animals must be handled humanely at all times, even when they are going to be euthanized.

It is unacceptable to drag a downed animal when it is still alive or to leave it exposed to harsh weather or direct sunlight.

Proper care should be given throughout the animal's entire life, including euthanasia and disposal.

As mentioned, another acceptable method of euthanasia is the use of a captive bolt pistol.

A captive bolt penetrates the skull, causing trauma to the brain and leaving the animal unconscious.

In order to ensure the death of the animal, additional steps should be taken immediately after the use of the captive bolt.

Exsanguination, bleeding out, pithing or injection of a potassium chloride, are acceptable and effective methods.

Potassium chloride is the preferred method since it is convenient and thus can be performed with ease.

This requires additional training.

If you plan to use a captive bolt, consult your veterinarian.

- The final step in the euthanasia process is to confirm that the animal is truly dead.

This is a critical step, particularly if you are using the captive bolt method.

- [Elizabeth] The lack of a pulse is not enough to confirm death and slow or shallow breathing may not be visible in an animal that is unconscious, but not yet dead.

Instead, the corneal reflex should be evaluated.

This is done by touching the surface of the eyeball and watching for any reaction.

The animal should be rechecked at least twice after several minutes to ensure it is truly dead.

In addition, spend a few minutes listening for a heartbeat as an added measure.

If the animal is not dead, go back and follow the proper steps to administer the euthanasia method again.

While humane euthanasia is a necessary procedure, the potential impact on employees, neighbors and farm visitors should not be overlooked.

Involuntary movements may come from an animal even if a procedure has been administered properly.

Remember these important guidelines.

Conduct euthanasia in an area that is not easily viewed by others.

Only individuals required for carrying out the procedure should be present.

Ensure that the individuals carrying out the procedure have been properly trained and are experienced with the method to be used.

- We're all responsible for the well-being of animals in our care.

Following these best practices benefits not only the animals, but also our farms and businesses.

(calm ambient music)

- [Elizabeth] For more information on euthanasia techniques or proper animal care, contact your local veterinarian and extension veterinarian or visit the Penn State extension website.


Only registered users can write reviews. Please, log in or register

Frequently Asked Questions


What are the technical requirements for watching videos?
What devices and browsers are supported for watching videos?
Can a video be viewed multiple times?
Can I share a video with multiple people?
Is there closed captioning available for videos?
Are videos accessible for people who require special needs or services?
Who do I contact if I have a question about a specific video?