A Comprehensive Look at the Release of the 2020 Edition of AVMA Guidelines

AVMA Euthanasia 2020 Guidelines
Image Source: AVMA

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released its official AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition, an update to its 2013 Edition, in January 2020.

OLAW issued its Notice of Intent to Seek Public Comments on Updated AVMA Guidelines for Euthanasia on January 21st, 2020, within which it is encouraging “PHS-Assured institutions to begin using the 2020 Guidelines when reviewing research projects as soon as possible” (NIH/OLAW, 2020). OLAW issued its official Request for Information (RFI) on Implementation of the Updated AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition on February 24th, 2020. Public comments must be submitted on or before April 29th, 2020.

According to the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM), “The recommendations in the guidelines are intended to guide veterinarians, who must then use professional judgment in applying them to the various settings where animals are to be euthanized” (2020). This new edition is considered an interim revision as opposed to a comprehensive review. The next comprehensive review is expected by 2023.

OLAW has provided a valuable set of implementation guidelines available at https://olaw.nih.gov/avma-guidelines-2020.htm to address questions such as how to implement the new AVMA guidelines for previously approved protocols, if there is a deadline on implementation, and how the semi-annual program review and facility inspections fit in.

Here are what we believe to be the three most significant changes:

1. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas commonly used for euthanasia of mice and rats. The recommended displacement rate was previously 10-30% of the chamber/cage volume per minute. The new recommendation is a displacement rate of 30-70% of the chamber/cage per minute.

2. Previously, avian embryos were considered to have the potential for perception at 50% incubation. The new recommendation is that avian embryos have the potential for perception at 80% of their incubation. Therefore, avian embryos that are at 80% or greater incubation should be euthanized using a method approved for avian neonates (i.e., anesthetic overdose, decapitation, or prolonged exposure to CO2). Avian embryos at less than 80% incubation can be “destroyed” using prolonged exposure to CO2, or a cooling or freezing method.

3. Clarification on the distinction between sedation and anesthesia was added. More specifically, sedated animals can be “aroused to a conscious state with sufficient stimulation.” An anesthetized animal is unconscious and cannot be made conscious by stimulation.

For more details on the changes, refer to Section 12.2 of the new AVMA Guidelines.

We hope this review is helpful as animal care and use program leaders should already be strategizing on how to best implement these changes.


ACLAM (Jan. 22, 2020). OLAW Seeking Input on AVMA Guidelines. www.aclam.org/news/2020/01/22/OLAW-Seeking-Input-on-AVMA-Guidelines.

AVMA. (2020). AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition. www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/euthanasia.pdf

National Institutes of Health (NIH). (Feb. 24, 2020). Request for Information (RFI) on Implementation of the Updated AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition (NOT-OD-20-069).


Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW). (Jan. 21, 2020). AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition posted. https://olaw.nih.gov/news/avma-guidelines-euthanasia-animals-2020-edition-posted.html

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