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Review article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Humanely Ending the Life of Animals: Research Priorities to Identify Alternatives to Carbon Dioxide

Steiner, Aline R.; Axiak Flammer, Shannon; Beausoleil, Ngaio J.; Berg, Lotta; Bettschart-Wolfensberger, Regula; García Pinillos, Rebeca; Golledge, Huw D.R.; Marahrens, Michael; Meyer, Robert; Schnitzer, Tobias; Toscano, Michael J.; Turner, Patricia V.; Weary, Daniel M.; Gent, Thomas C.


Simple Summary: Carbon dioxide is commonly used for stunning animals prior to killing. It allows several animals to be killed at once, reduces the need for handling, and is a reliable method. However, research in laboratory rodents, poultry, and pigs has indicated that it causes considerable aversion at concentrations above ambient conditions. Currently, there are no available alternatives with desirable characteristics. This manuscript describes a list of research priorities to find and implement the use of alternative methods or agents to improve animal welfare.Abstract: The use of carbon dioxide (CO2) for stunning and killing animals is considered to compromise welfare due to air hunger, anxiety, fear, and pain. Despite decades of research, no alternatives have so far been found that provide a safe and reliable way to induce unconsciousness in groups of animals, and also cause less distress than CO2. Here, we revisit the current and historical literature to identify key research questions that may lead to the identification and implementation of more humane alternatives to induce unconsciousness in mice, rats, poultry, and pigs. In addition to the evaluation of novel methods and agents, we identify the need to standardise the terminology and behavioural assays within the field. We further reason that more accurate measurements of consciousness state are needed and serve as a central component in the assessment of suffering. Therefore, we propose a roadmap toward improving animal welfare during end-of-life procedures.


animal welfare; carbon dioxide; stunning; killing; euthanasia; rodents; poultry; pigs; aversion; air hunger

Published in

2019, Volume: 9, number: 11, article number: 911

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Animal and Dairy Science

    Publication identifier


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