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Graphic Content Warning: How are lab animals killed? Cervical Dislocation

Graphic Content Warning: How are lab animals killed? Cervical Dislocation

Ever heard of “cervical dislocation”? In short, it’s having your neck broken. Here’s how experimenters are killing mice and rats with this method:

“For mice and rats, the thumb and index finger are placed on either side of the neck at the base of the skull or , alternatively, a rod is pressed at the base of the skull.  With the other hand, the base of the tail or the hind limbs are quickly pulled, causing separation of the cervical vertebrae from the skull.”

I recently went to a conference for the people responsible for overseeing the welfare of animals subjected to experimentation. Every institution that does animal research is required by U.S. Law to have a committee at their institution called an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). These committees are made up of researchers, veterinarians, and persons unaffiliated with the institution and are responsible for the welfare of the animals being experimented on by the institution. The annual IACUC Conference is an opportunity for committee participants to share their experiences.

More than 100 million animals are killed in the U.S. every year with some method of euthanasia, and there’s no shortage of methods to choose from: carbon dioxide, injectable barbiturates or anesthesia, with decapitation or cervical dislocation without anesthesia, among others.  

Regardless of what method of euthanasia is used, it remains an inherently traumatic experience for the animals and for the people forced to kill them. At the IACUC conference, animal experimenters and other IACUC members shared their horror stories of botched euthanasia: mice and rats able to see other mice and rats killed by cervical dislocation or carbon dioxide, partial decapitation, and worse.

Although all these methods of killing mice and rats are approved by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), there is mounting evidence that some of these commonly practiced methods of euthanasia are incredibly cruel. In a 2012 paper looking into the welfare implications of cervical dislocation, researchers found that their AVMA-approved euthanasia method actually failed, prolonging the animals’ suffering:

“In our pilot work, some mice continued breathing for as long as 15 minutes before we euthanized them with sodium pentobarbital; these mice likely could have continued breathing even longer.  Had they been removed from anesthesia and regained consciousness, with multiple spinal injuries, their suffering could have been severe.”

In a ridiculous understatement, the AVMA guidelines state that this euthanasia method “may be aesthetically displeasing to personnel performing or observing the method.” Below, we’ve linked to a video demonstrating cervical dislocation- take a look for yourself, but warning the content may be upsetting to some viewers.

The trauma experienced by these poor animals, and the people who kill them, is unacceptable. We believe it is time for the AVMA to revise its guidelines to eliminate some of the most cruel forms of killing lab animals. Cervical dislocation and other methods are inherently cruel, can’t be made humane with certainty, and should no longer be permitted.   

Click here to ask the AVMA to revise its “Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals”. Although AVMA revises these guidelines every 10 years, they’ve been in the habit of doing interim updates, and we believe it’s time for them to consult animal welfare experts that don’t profit from animal experimentation and who can offer less biased guidance regarding which euthanasia methods such as cervical dislocation should be removed from the AVMA list of approved euthanasia methods.