The Medical Procedure for Compassionate Euthanasia of Pet Rats

DRAFT (12/29/2010)


Below you can read the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Guidelines for Euthanasia 2007. The AVMA is rewriting them, and will have the new ones out soon in 2011. They list all approved methods for all species. This has been offered to give additional education and information to non-professionals who are interested and able to absorb this type of medical material. Most drugs used by veterinarians for euthanasia are controlled substances, some are legend drugs (available only to vets) or prescription drugs (available only to vets and MDs). These substances are not available to lay persons. Euthanasia should never be attempted by lay persons at home.

Some vets may use methods that do not give a pain free death to small mammals like rats and mice. As an owner, you should educate yourself about what methods are acceptable. Never allow a cardiac puncture with Beuthanasia unless the rat is first fully anesthetized with gas (as if major surgery could take place). You should not allow an abdominal injection of Beuthanasia - it is too slow, and the drug itself can produce a painful sensation.

It is of paramount importance that you ask your vet how the euthanasia will be done, and educate yourself about what is acceptable and what is not.

Either of these two methods is totally pain free and most acceptable, and has been used by my personal vet on my rats:

1. An overdose of gas anesthesia until death is achieved. 2. Gas anesthesia until a surgical plane of anesthesia is achieved, then a cardiac injection of Beuthanasia, or a deep liver injection of Beuthanasia. The rat should stay on gas until death is achieved.

A third method, 50 mg of xylazine mixed with 50 mg Ketamine, injected with a 25 gauge or smaller needle (27 gauge is preferred), directly into the abdomen (in the correct spot, which is the lower right quadrant with the rat held slightly head down) is also a good method. Most debilitated rats will not react to the needle prick and become sedated within a minute, and gradually the heart and breathing will be suppressed, and they will go peacefully in their owner’s arms within 2 to10 minutes. Those two drugs have no sensation when injected into the abdomen. The only pain would be from the prick of the needle, which some rats will respond to and some will not. Sometimes the rat will be strong enough that it will take too long to pass this way, and in this case the rat should be helped over with a little gas anesthesia.

I believe in educating owners, and object to "secrecy" when it comes to information on what is appropriate and what is not. None of this information is proprietary, and the drugs used are either controlled substances, prescription drugs or legend drugs, and are available only to veterinarians and MDs. Euthanasia should only be carried out by a veterinarian. But, it should be a vet who knows what is proper, and is willing to do the proper procedures. That's where an educated owner is important.



I am president of Pittsburgh Rat Lovers Club, and a PA licensed vet tech for 35 years. I am knowledgeable in particular with pet rat medicine. My personal veterinarian has 25 years experience with rats and other small mammals.

Cardiac puncture should ONLY be done under a surgical plane of anesthesia. These small mammals should be put in a tank and anesthetized with isoflurane, sevoflurane or other acceptable anesthetic gas, and then given the Beuthanasia by cardiac puncture or deep liver puncture. DIRECT CARDIAC PUNCTURE PRIOR TO ANESTHESIA IS INHUMANE. Sedation is not a substitute for surgical plane anesthesia.

An alternate method is to inject 50 mg xylazine mixed with 50 mg ketamine IP, with a small needle (25 gauge or smaller) and allow the animal to pass away in the owners arms. Most debilitated rats will pass away in less than 10 minutes. This mixture is not painful when injected IP. The needle stick may or may not elicit a pain response. If the rat (now deeply sedated) is taking longer than 10 minutes to pass away, then give gas anesthesia to finish the process.

You must not use Beuthanasia solution IP, it is painful and it does not work efficiently.

I realize that anesthetizing the animal prior to a cardiac stick will cost more money, but the client has the responsibility to pay that extra money, and you, as veterinarians, have the responsibility to DO IT RIGHT.

Lindsay Pulman LVT, LATg
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