How To Humanely Euthanize Your Fish
Euthanasia options for Fish.
You have tried everything to nurse your fish back to health but to no avail. It is dying and in distress. Some people decide to never euthanize their fish. They would rather just let nature take its course with the fish and let the fish die on its own. You can go this route or you can choose to speed things along. Most people determine their actions by considering the fish's quality of life in its last days.
Euthanasia options for Fish
We will describe euthanasia options in their general order of popularity, with a focus on "old school" methods and newer, kinder methods. When researching this article, we looked at public opinion on the Internet, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)'s opinion on euthanasia and how many universities across America euthanize fish for research purposes.
Many colleges use AVMA as their standard in determining the humane way to euthanize animals. The AVMA puts out a report about every decade where they survey acceptable means to euthanize animals. The last report was put out in 2000.
Most college and universities have acceptable methods for euthanizing animals for research. The University of Washington's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee released their policy for euthanizing fish in 2002. George Mason University published their own standard operating procedure where they have categorized methods of euthanasia.
OLD SCHOOL METHODS
These methods are the most common among fish-hobbyists, especially those that did not have the opportunity to spend much time researching euthanasia options.
Putting the Freeze on Sparkles
Freezing is a commonly used method for euthanizing warm water fish. To freeze your fish, freeze water in a small bag until the ice is slushy. Then place your fish in the water and continue to freeze it. The folks at Web Web Media advocate using the freezer but other people feel that this method must be somewhat discomforting to the fish. Out of all the "old-school" methods, this process seems most humane. The AVMA does not advocate freezing fish as an acceptable method of euthanasia; the only way they would approve of cooling would be to deep freeze an animal already under deep anesthesia.
Decapitation - Swift and Surely
The fish will probably feel something as you slice the knife in; even it is momentary pain. At least this method is quick (as long as you do not hesitate once you start the task). The AVMA believes that this can be acceptable as long as it is coupled with anesthesia to begin with.
Carbon dioxide can be used to euthanize fish. Alka Seltzer is a popular source for carbon dioxide to be released in water. This method may seem innocuous enough but most people who have used this method say that their fish thrashed around a little bit just as if the fish were out of water (here is one person's story). You may need to decapitate or freeze the fish afterwards to ensure death. The AVMA supports this method and many universities advocate using this method as well (see the University of Washington's Policy for Euthanasia for Fish Species). Dr. Craig Harms (http://www.petplace.com/fish/euthanasia-in-fish/page1.aspx) describes this method; 8 tablets of Alka Seltzer is required per gallon of water.
Snapping the Neck
Some people effectively snap the neck by hitting the fish over a hard surface or on the kitchen counter (covering the fish in a plastic bag first). Given that decapitation would be a more certain way of severing the neck, decapitation is a preferred method over "snapping" the neck.
GENTLER WAYS TO DEEP SIX THE FISH
In this part of the article, we will discuss other methods of euthanizing your fish. Most of these methods are much more common in the veterinarian/university setting than at home.
Death by Overdose with Anesthetics
- Tricaine Methanesulfonate (TMS). This method is probably the most quoted by people with much experience in euthanizing fish humanely (i.e. for university experiments, etc.). TMS is also known as MS222 and commercially is known as Finquel. You can buy it from a pet supply store; Drs. Foster and Smith carry it; a bottle costs $24.99 plus shipping and handling. You can also buy this from PondRx ($14.99 plus shipping and handling for a 5 gram bottle) and Argent Labs. According to fish biologist Meyers' blog, simply by doubling the regular dose that you would use to anesthetize the fish will euthanize it. This substance is FDA approved for anesthetizing and euthanizing fish; it is the only product that is FDA approved to anesthetize fish.
- Benzocaine Hydrochloride is a drug requiring a veterinarian's prescription; you cannot buy it over the shelf for your fish. The AVMA advocates the use of Benzocaine hydrochloride but not straight Benzocaine. Benzocaine is not water soluble and must be mixed in water with acetone or ethanol, both can irritate fish tissue.
- Clove Oil/Vodka Method. Many fish keepers advocate using clove oil to anesthetize fish. You both anesthetize them first with the clover oil and dispatch the fish with another method or you give them such a strong concentration of clove oil that the clove oil alone will kill them. This article probably covers using the clove oil/vodka method is most detail: What is the Most Humane Way to Euthanize a Fish by wiseGeek.com. This process is not advocated by the AVMA in their 2000 report due to lack of research.
Death by Injection - Barbiturates
This is another humane way to kill fish as they will slip into unconsciousness first and then on to death. The problem with this method is you will find it difficult if not impossible to get your hands on it since it's a controlled substance. Your vet may be able to do this for you. The AVMA advocate only using Sodium Phenobarbital as other barbiturates may cause pain when injected. Vets use this method all the time for animals that they must euthanize.
What to do with your Dearly Departed Pet?
Now that you have a dead fish on your hands, you could choose to bury them in your backyard (follow your local ordinances on the matter), wrap them up and throw them out with your regular trash, or contact your veterinarian and ask them to dispose of your fish for you.
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