Euthanasia of Rodents

Federal Policy

PHS Policy requires Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) to determine that methods of euthanasia utilized in research proposals are consistent with the Report of the American Veterinary Medical Association Panel on Euthanasia ( AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia) unless a deviation is justified for scientific reasons in writing by the investigator. IACUC approval of such deviations must be project-specific and include critical review of assertions of scientific necessity.

General Considerations:

  • Euthanasia techniques must be consistent with the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia. Methods are chosen to minimize animal pain and distress consistent with needs of the research protocol.
  • The method of euthanasia must be specified in the approved Institutional Animal Care and Use (IACUC) protocol. Animal death must be verified after euthanasia and prior to disposal (for specific details please refer to the section “Verifying Euthanasia” below).
  • Use of anesthetic for euthanasia must be an overdose, not an anesthetic dose. Regardless of amount of chemical administered, animal must be completely non-responsive to noxious stimuli (hind paw pinch) before any physical means are applied.
  • Sodium pentobarbital and ketamine are controlled substances and must be maintained according to the BU Controlled Substances Program.
  • Physical methods of euthanasia such as decapitation or cervical dislocation of unanesthetized animals require demonstration of competence, and may be approved with proper justification in the IACUC protocol and documentation of training.
  • Euthanasia should not be performed in the presence of other animals whenever possible.
  • The procedures listed below are suggested common methods for euthanasia of rodents. Other methods outlined in the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia are acceptable with proper justification in the approved IACUC protocol.

Recommended Procedures:

Fetal Mice, Rats, and Hamsters up to 15 days
Fetal Guinea pigs up to 34 days gestation

Neural development at this stage is minimal and pain perception is considered unlikely. Due to non-viability of fetuses at this stage of development, euthanasia of the mother or the removal of the fetus should ensure rapid death of the fetus. No additional action is needed.

Fetal Mice, Rats, and Hamsters 15 days gestation to birth
Fetal Guinea pigs 35 days gestation to birth

Pain perception at this stage of development is likely. Fetuses at this stage are less susceptible to inhalant anesthetics.

  1. Decapitation with surgical scissors is an acceptable method of euthanasia.
  2. Euthanasia of individual fetal animals may be induced by the skillful injection of chemical anesthetics.
  3. When chemical fixation or rapid freezing of the whole fetus is required, anesthesia must be used prior to immersion in or perfusion with fixative solutions.
  4. Anesthesia may be induced by hypothermia of the fetus or by injection of the fetus with a chemical anesthetic.

Pregnant Dams

When fetuses are not required for minimizing fetal arousal. The recommended method consists of CO2 exposure of the dam. Death of the dam must be verified after euthanasia and prior to disposal (see guidelines below for ensuring death).

Alternatively an overdose of pentobarbital (200 mg/kg) IP may be administered. Injection must be made carefully to avoid intrauterine administration; however, this will be absorbed and will euthanize the feti as well. Death of dam must be verified.

Neonatal Mice, Rats, Gerbils, and Hamsters ≤ 10 days

At this stage of development, neonates are highly tolerant to inhalant anesthetics including CO2. Maturation of nociceptors and the development of excitatory and inhibitory receptor systems occur during the period just prior to birth and into the second week of postnatal life. Resistance to hypoxia at this age results in a prolonged time to unconsciousness and death when CO2 is used as a euthanasia agent and must be followed by a second, physical method.

Place neonates in a CO2 chamber for 4-5 minutes to begin the euthanasia process; then follow with decapitation. Neonates may instead be anesthetized with isoflurane in an induction chamber or jar, followed by decapitation. Alternatively, for neonatal rats and mice, rapid decapitation with sharp scissors may be performed. However, the use of decapitation without prior anesthesia with isoflurane or carbon dioxide must be justified.

Intraperitoneal injection of at least 200 mg/kg sodium pentobarbital or a euthanasia solution such as Euthasol® (390 mg/ml sodium pentobarbital + 50 mg/ml phenytoin) or Fatal Plus® is also acceptable.

Neonatal Guinea Pigs

Follow guidelines for adult guinea pigs.

Mice, Rats, and Hamsters >10 days

  1. Intraperitoneal injection of at least 200 mg/kg sodium pentobarbital euthanasia solution, or other anesthetic at an overdose.
  2. Inhalation of CO2 from a pressurized tank in an uncrowded chamber (a standard size mouse cage may contain no more than 5 mice) followed by cervical dislocation, decapitation or bilateral thoracotomy.

Adult (postweaning) Mice, Rats and Hamsters

  1. Intraperitoneal injection of at least 200 mg/kg sodium pentobarbital or pentobarbital euthanasia solution.
  2. Inhalation of CO2 from a pressurized tank in an uncrowded chamber.

Guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are born so mature and precocious that even the neonates and preweaning animals are euthanized by the same procedures as adults.

1. Inhalation of CO2 is an approved method for guinea pigs.

2. Intraperitoneal injection of at least 200 mg/kg sodium pentobarbital or pentobarbital euthanasia solution. If necessary, one may sedate the animal first using ketamine 50 mg/kg IM plus xylazine 2 mg/kg IM. Once deeply sedated (5 – 10 minutes after injection), inject at least 200 mg/kg sodium pentobarbital euthanasia solution intraperitoneally.

CO2 euthanasia procedures

In order to minimize stress on the animals the following procedures are followed:

1. Avoid overcrowding. Standard animal facility guidelines for cage density must be maintained.2. Whenever possible euthanize rodents in their home cage to minimize the stress of being handled and placed into an unfamiliar enclosure.

3. Set the regulator so that the CO2 gas flows slowly and dose not hiss or overpower the animals and frighten them. A rule of thumb is 20% displacement per minute; and to not let the psi go above 15.

4. The regulator for the CO2 tank should be adjusted so that the flow of CO2 is slow enough not to make a noise or frighten the animals. Slower flow also allows the animals a more gradual induction of unconsciousness and is thus less stressful. Animals must be left in the chamber for a sufficient time (4 or 5 minutes) so that complete asphyxia has been attained.

Procedures for administration of pentobarbital or other euthanasia agents containing pentobarbital

Pentobarbital, because of its basic pH (pH ~11) and concentration, is best diluted to a concentration of no more than 60 mg/ml. Also, due to the small size of most rodents, this allows better calculation of the dose and in addition, facilitates absorption.

Verifying Death

Death must be verified after euthanasia and prior to disposal. Unintended recovery must be prevented by the use of appropriate CO2 concentrations and exposure times or by other means as noted below.

Euthanasia by CO2 or inhalation of other gaseous agents or an injectable agent requires the use of a secondary physical method to assure death. Examples of secondary methods include:

1. Decapitation

2. Cervical dislocation

3. Exsanguination – i.e., great vessels severed (cardiac puncture does not result in consistent exsanguinations and may not be used as secondary method)

4. Cardiac perfusion

5. Removal of vital organs

6. Incision of the chest cavity to produce a bilateral pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and cessation of respiration

Unintended recovery of animals after apparent death from CO2 (e.g., in necropsy coolers) is a documented occurrence. Such incidents constitute serious noncompliance with the PHS Policy and serious deviation from the provisions of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals must be reported by the institution to OLAW. Researchers must make sure the animal is dead before disposal, tissue collection or leaving the animal unattended.


  1. IACUC Guidelines, Boston University Medical School, 2013.
  2. IACUC Guidelines, New Jersey Medical School, UMDNJ Newark Campus, 2005
  3. IACUC Guidelines, University of California at San Francisco, 2007

BU IACUC Approved August 2008; Revised February 2012, January 2014