Whitmer, E. R., Trumbull, E. J., Harris, H. S. et al. 2021. Use of potassium chloride for low-residue euthanasia of anesthetized California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) with life-threatening injury or disease. Journal of the AVMA 259(2), 197-201.
BACKGROUND: The need for field euthanasia of pinnipeds occasionally arises for circumstances in which carcass retrieval for disposal is logistically challenging to impossible. This could include mass stranding events, remote field research, or carcasses that are too large for removal given the terrain, available equipment, or personnel. OBJECTIVE: To demonstrate the efficacy of potassium chloride (KCl) for low-residue euthanasia of anesthetized pinnipeds in field settings for which carcass retrieval for disposal is not feasible. ANIMALS: Stranded, free-ranging California sea lions (CSLs; Zalophus californianus; n = 17) and northern elephant seals (NESs; Mirounga angustirostris; 6) with life-threatening injury or disease between May and August 2020. PROCEDURES: Each animal was anesthetized and then received a lethal dose of KCl solution administered by IV or intracardiac injection. The effective KCl dose; durations to cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and pupil dilation; and presence or absence of agonal breaths, muscle fasciculations, or skeletal movements were recorded. RESULTS: Mean effective dose of KCl was 207.4 mg/kg (94.3 mg/lb) for the 17 CSLs and 209.1 mg/kg (95.0 mg/lb) for 5 of 6 NESs (1 outlier NES was excluded). The range in duration from the beginning of KCl injection to cardiac arrest was 0 to 6 minutes, to pupil dilation was 0 to 5 minutes, and to respiratory arrest was 0 to 5 minutes. Muscle fasciculations, skeletal movements, and agonal breaths were observed in both species during and after KCl administration. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The use of KCl provides an effective, low-residue method of euthanasia in anesthetized CSLs and NESs. Our recommended dose for these species is 250 mg KCl/kg (113.6 mg KCl/lb) delivered by intracardiac injection. Compared with euthanasia by barbiturate overdose, the use of KCl reduces the potential for secondary intoxication of scavengers and is appropriate in field scenarios in which the carcass cannot be retrieved for disposal.