Clarkson, J. M., Martin, J. E., McKeegan, D. E. F. 2022. A review of methods used to kill laboratory rodents: Issues and opportunities. Laboratory Animals 56(5), 419-436.
Rodents are the most widely used species for scientific purposes. A critical pre-requisite of their use, based on utilitarian ethical reasoning, is the provision of a humane death when necessary for scientific or welfare grounds. Focussing on the welfare challenges presented by current methods, we critically evaluate the literature, consider emerging methodologies that may have potential for refinement and highlight knowledge gaps for future research. The evidence supports the conclusion that scientists and laboratory personnel should seek to avoid killing laboratory rodents by exposing them to carbon dioxide (CO2), unless exploiting its high-throughput advantage. We suggest that stakeholders and policymakers should advocate for the removal of CO2 from existing guidelines, instead making its use conditionally acceptable with justification for additional rationale for its application. With regards to physical methods such as cervical dislocation, decapitation and concussion, major welfare concerns are based on potential inaccuracy in application and their susceptibility to high failure rates. There is a need for independent quality-controlled training programmes to facilitate optimal success rates and the development of specialist tools to improve outcomes and reliability. Furthermore, we highlight questions surrounding the inconsistent inclusion criteria and acceptability of physical methods in international regulation and/or guidance, demonstrating a lack of cohesion across countries and lack of a comprehensive ‘gold standard’ methodology. We encourage better review of new data and championing of open access scientific resources to advocate for best practice and enable significant changes to policy and legislation to improve the welfare of laboratory rodents at killing.