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The Welfare of Wildlife is Paramount

Wildlife and Euthanasia
Written by Lauren Valentine RVN C-SQP APVN(Zoo)

Sadly up to 50% of wildlife are thought to be put to sleep every year in many rescues across the country, but this has left the public confused and questioning why. We have asked one of our fantastic wildlife vet nurses to write this page to discuss what euthanasia is and why it is a treatment option.

So, what is euthanasia?

The term “Euthanasia” is often replaced with “putting to sleep”. As per the RCVS code of conduct euthanasia may be defined as “painless killing to relieve suffering”.

The BVA lists two definitions:

“The act or practice of putting painlessly to death.”

“The action of inducing a quiet and easy death.”

The veterinary industry has the “privilege of being able to relieve an animal's suffering in this way in appropriate cases”. Euthanasia is carried out in companion animals and wildlife usually by way of drug administration into a vein. The method may vary when the act involves larger animals such as horses or deer.

What is the purpose of euthanasia?

“The primary purpose of euthanasia is to relieve suffering.”

“The decision to follow this option will be based on an assessment of many factors. These may include the extent and nature of the disease or injuries, other treatment options, the prognosis and potential quality of life after treatment, the availability and likelihood of success of treatment, the animal’s age and/or other disease/health status and the ability of the owner to pay for private treatment.”

Euthanasia and wildlife

Our aim is to Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release...

The ultimate goal of rescuing wildlife is to rehabilitate and release animals so that they can return to their wild lives. Rehabilitation aims to ensure animals have equal opportunity and have an equal chance at life as their wild counterparts. Unfortunately, there are certain injuries and conditions that cannot be treated in our wild patients, this may differ greatly from the care and options given to our beloved pets.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 requires that those responsible for animals must ensure their welfare and that the needs of the animals in their care are met. In the case of wildlife, this can be extremely difficult due to the numerous amounts of species that need specialised care. Short term captivity needs can be met in all our UK species allowing for rehabilitation time, however as soon as an animal is ready for release, wildlife carers will ensure this happens as quickly as possible.


Therefore, rescue centres have minimal handling policies, to reduce the risk of animals imprinting on staff. Release of an “imprinted” animal is not recommended due to the trauma of separation; animals must be dehumanised before release.

Wild animals are not used to being captive and captive environments for any length of time can be stressful, humans are seen as predators by many of our wild species and therefore permanent captivity for disabled wildlife is not recommended by veterinary staff and wildlife experts.


Captive environments are unable to replicate the wilderness an animal is accustomed to, leaving them with constant levels of stress and fear. Many of our wild species are prey animals, these species often mask their illnesses for a long time before any noticeable changes occur, resulting in late treatment of conditions or even diagnosis of stress.


Euthanasia is often opted for in non-releasable wild animals as this is a kinder option than an unnatural life of fear and stress. Euthanasia as a treatment option ensures that the animals quality of life is not poor. Assessing quality, not quantity of life is vital in making these tough decisions.

If a veterinary surgeon or nurse advises that an animals needs to be euthanised, this is usually down to injuries that can not be treated or would result in a permanent captive life for that patient.

To be a good rescue we must always work alongside vets and vet nurses to ensure the welfare of our wildlife so that they can one day have a second chance to be wild!

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