Issues - Animal Disposal - Sodium Pentobarbital
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Carcass Disposal

The State Veterinarian's office has provided CVMA with information on carcass disposal. Click here to read.


Animal Disposal

Protect Yourself From Accidental Wildlife Deaths - CVMA Voice Winter 2002
A recent article and letter to the editor in AVMA’s Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) highlighted the environmental perils that can occur when animals euthanized with drugs such as sodium pentobarbital and wildlife mix – always with tragic results. 

Case in point: In 1999, a Colorado veterinarian and a rancher inadvertently poisoned five golden eagles and two bald eagles after the birds of prey fed on two mule carcasses that had been euthanized with sodium pentobarbital. Horrified by what had happened but wanting to meet their ethical responsibilities, the individuals contacted authorities. They were fined $10,000 each for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Eagle Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act. It could have been worse. The penalties for such a violation can go as high as $100,000 for an individual or result in one year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction. Subsequent violations can be charged as a felony.

Birds aren't the only victims of accidental sodium pentobarbital poisoning. A bear and two cubs were killed after digging up the carcass of a euthanized animal that was buried 10 feet underground.  And the problem isn't just one for large animal veterinarians; euthanized domestic animals in landfills have been implicated in wildlife deaths as well.

What can you do to protect yourself, Colorado's magnificent wildlife, and still meet your obligations and responsibilities as a veterinarian? The following guidelines can help.

How should an animal that has been euthanized with sodium pentobarbital be properly disposed of?
Any time a veterinarian uses a barbiturate to euthanize an animal, that body must be disposed of as quickly as possible. Colorado state law does not stipulate a timeframe, but does specify that a body must be at least two feet underground. In areas where ground water is an issue, that body may need to go to a landfill. The law also indicates that no dead animal or part of a carcass be placed within one mile of a residence.

Local regulations may vary and you should contact your county's public health department for details. For a list of Colorado counties online, visit For a list of Colorado cities and towns online, visit

Whose responsibility is it to dispose of an animal that has been euthanized?
The animal owner is the responsible party. However, if the owner does not dispose of the body in a proper or timely manner, the responsibility may fall back on the veterinarian.

How can I protect myself?
Make sure your client knows how to properly dispose of a carcass. If the animal is being buried, make sure that a backhoe is on site to do the job. You may even insist that a hole be dug while you are there. At the very least, make sure that the body is securely covered by plastic before you leave the premises.

Although not proven in court, another step you can take that should protect you legally is to have your client sign a euthanasia form that puts the onus of proper disposal of the owner and outlines what entails a proper disposal. You can create this form on your own or with a lawyer. The Raptor Education Foundation has created a National Euthanasia Registry (NER) that will provide veterinarians with a three-part form. One copy is given to the client, one stays with the veterinarian, and one goes to the NER office. There is a fee for this service. For more information, visit

How can I educate my clients about proper disposal?
Education is key. Provide clients with a list of their responsibilities and what entails a proper disposal of a euthanized animal. Include names and phone numbers of landfills that will accept carcasses, crematoriums, and other companies that deal with animal carcass removal and disposal. This type of information is especially helpful for clients who have large animals as a hobby or for companionship and may not have disposed of a large carcass before. If possible, give this list to the client prior to your visit so they are prepared.

Many thanks to Dr. Wayne Cunningham for his contribution to this article.

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