Pounder, K. C., Mitchell, J. L., Thomson, J. S. et al. 2018. Physiological and behavioural evaluation of common anaesthesia practices in the rainbow trout. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 199, 94-102.
Anaesthetic drugs are commonly administered to fish in aquaculture, research and veterinary contexts. Anaesthesia causes temporary absence of consciousness and may reduce the stress and/or pain associated with handling and certain invasive procedures. The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is a widely-used model species with relevance to both aquaculture and natural ecosystems. This study sought to establish the relative acute impact of commonly used anaesthetics on rainbow trout when used for anaesthesia or euthanasia by exploring their effects on aversion behaviour and stress physiology. Five widely used anaesthetics were investigated at two concentrations reflective of common laboratory practises: MS-222, benzocaine, 2-phenoxyethanol, etomidate and eugenol. The anaesthetics were administered via immersion and fish were: 1) euthanised with anaesthetic; or 2) allowed to recover from deep plane anaesthesia; or 3) subjected to a conditioned place avoidance paradigm. Behaviour, opercular beat rate and plasma cortisol concentrations and cortisol release rates to water were quantified to investigate the effects of the five drugs. Based upon longer induction to deep plane anaesthesia, and increased plasma cortisol levels post-anaesthesia the widely-used and recommended anaesthetic MS-222 may be relatively stressful for rainbow trout. Whereas 2-phenoxyethanol, due to a combination of quicker induction, reduced aversive behavioural response during anaesthesia and lower post-anaesthesia plasma cortisol levels may be a more advisable alternative. It is crucial for the welfare of fish that the use of anaesthetics is as humane as possible and thus these findings have important implications for the welfare and husbandry of captive rainbow trout.