Disposal of Euthanized Animals

Q:I work at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Md., with the Marine Animal Rescue Program. Occasionally a large marine mammal requires euthanasia. I was wondering if you knew the half-life of some of the usual drugs. There is concern (and debate) that if we euthanize a marine mammal on a beach, that other animals will eat the carcass and die from the euthanasia drugs. I guess the same problems could be true of a horse that was euthanized. Any thoughts on this?


A:The question is a valid one. The typical euthanasia drug is a concentrated solution of pentobarbital. And since the animal dies immediately, there probably is very little degradation of the drug in the animal's tissues and blood. As an example, I euthanized a horse some years ago at a remote farm, where pick-up was unavailable. It took a full day to get a backhoe and dig a hole for burial. But in a fairly short time, one farm dog discovered the blood leaking back out of the needle puncture site, and was seen lapping this up. He was confined and proceeded to sleep for two full days in a very deep coma.

The meat from euthanized horses (or other animals) is similarly toxic to carnivorous animals. The mink industry is extremely careful about screening out horse meat from euthanized animals. Your whale scenario should be treated the same way.

About the Author

A.C. Asbury, DVM

A. C. (Woody) Asbury received his DVM from Michigan State University in 1956, then spent 21 years in California in breeding farm practice and at UC Davis. He joined the faculty at the University of Florida in 1977 and was involved in teaching, research, and administration until 1996. An Emeritus Professor at Florida, he lives in Kentucky, where he and his wife are developing a small farm.

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