Husheer, J., Luepke, M., Dziallas, P. et al. 2021. Electrocution as an alternative euthanasia method to blunt force trauma to the head followed by exsanguination for non-viable piglets. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 62, 67.
On farms, the currently approved and most widely practised method of euthanising non-viable piglets is blunt force trauma to the head followed by exsanguination. However, the use of this method is criticised due to public perceptions and aversion to the methodology by caretakers. Therefore, electrocution after electrical stunning was examined as an alternative approach in 80 hybrid piglets. Initially, electrocution was simulated with finite element analysis using a computer piglet-model, where current density in the heart was visualised and size and position of the electrodes were defined. The following step investigated electrical parameters for electrocution in anaesthetised piglets; first, with a constant voltage power source and then with a constant current power source. The electrical stunning was examined using the constant current supply. Finally, the results of electrical stunning and electrocution were verified in 25 healthy piglets with a body weight between 1 and 2 kg. Unconsciousness was proven by testing palpebral, corneal and nociceptive reflexes. Time of death was confirmed by electroencephalography (EEG) and electrocardiography (ECG) records. Stunning succeeded with the preset of 1.3 A and 50 Hz, placing the electrodes on both sides of the head between the eyes and ears using different timespans between 8 and 20 s. Prolonged electrical flow resulted in reduced paddling movements after the epileptic seizure, and allowed undisturbed reflex tests and installation of electrodes for EEG and ECG recording during electrocution. Using 0.75 A and 400 Hz, pin-shaped electrodes were first positioned on both sides of the chest for 5 s, followed by a break of 20–30 s and a second current flow, whereby the electrodes were placed above the withers and the sternum for 5 s. Cardiac arrest and an isoelectric EEG were induced within 3 min after the onset of the electrical flow through the chest. The most obvious indicator of effective stunning and electrocution was termination of rhythmic breathing. Piglets with cardiac arrest showed only single gasps lasting up to 3 min after electrocution. The evaluated stunning and electrocution protocol might ease concerns about timely piglet euthanasia. However, this should be verified in non-viable piglets to exclude influencing factors like dehydration and diseases.