We have a separate barn for our show animals. Our show cattle are our pets, and when needed, we euthanize them with our veterinarian using an injection rather than another method.

However, the company that has picked up our deceased dairy cattle will no longer take animals that have been euthanized by this method. Why is this, and are there alternative euthanasia methods that are acceptable for rendering companies?


Response from Keith Poulsen, D.V.M., School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin

This has been an important issue recently due to recalls of pet food that had pentobarbital residues, which unfortunately caused the deaths of multiple dogs. Pentobarbital is the main component of the veterinary euthanasia solution for small and large animal species. The barbiturate drug is a fast and painless method to humanely euthanize animals. The residues are an issue because the drug is evenly distributed in products of rendering but is not degraded by the rendering process.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, a federal law, prohibited barbiturate residues in rendered animals that would enter any food chain. To be clear, rendered animals are not allowed to enter human food chains, but some rendering products could be used in soaps and cosmetics. A small portion of edible rendering is made into lard, grease, and tallow.

Since 2011, only a few rendering companies would still accept barbiturate euthanized animals because none of their products were used in feed products of any kind. The recent residue issue has further restricted rendering policies to minimize any risk of unintended human or animal exposure to barbiturate drugs.

There are alternate chemical methods of euthanasia that are approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) that your veterinarian may have to adopt for new policies of commercial rendering firms. Nonchemical euthanasia methods are also AVMA-approved such as gunshot and captive bolt to the head, which immediately disrupt brain activity.

These methods should only be used by well-trained and proficient personnel, and best practice has changed recently to ensure proper placement of the bullet or captive bolt. Consult your veterinarian to assist in training of new staff and refresher training of all staff on a regular basis.

Because physical methods of euthanasia may not be palatable for pet animals, there are other alternatives to rendering that include burial of deceased animals in a landfill or on the farm. Each landfill may have different regulations dictated by municipal or state agencies, so you may need to call around to find a location that will accept barbiturate euthanized animals.

Many animals are buried on farm or on private property. This practice, too, is governed by local and state regulations to protect waterways and exposure of wildlife to barbiturate residues. It is very important to bury animals to depths that prevent scavenging, and burial may be hindered by frost in the winter months.

These regulations are not limited to cattle, and veterinarians are adapting to new regulations for horses as well because they, too, are commonly rendered for disposal.

For us at the School of Veterinary Medicine and the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, we have developed new chemical euthanasia protocols because physical methods of euthanasia may alter our ability to diagnose neurological diseases due to destruction of brain tissue. Although we have the ability to incinerate and digest tissues with alkaline hydrolysis technology, this is very expensive and not an industry-wide option at this time.