When circumstances dictate that an animal should be killed, the person charged with carrying out that killing is likely to have both legal and moral responsibilities with regard to animal welfare and human safety. All animals which have to be killed for the purposes of routine slaughter or culling, or in order to end their suffering, must be dispatched without causing additional pain or distress. The circumstances in which animals require humane destruction can differ greatly; therefore different procedures and methods need to be available to kill them. Whatever method is used, it is most important that great care is taken by those involved not to cause any avoidable pain, suffering or distress. Things are less likely to go wrong if the correct preparation has been carried out. Before killing an animal the operator needs to ask the following questions:

  • Does the animal need restraining? Is this possible? If so, which methods will cause the least distress to the animal and the least danger to the operator?
  • Is the animal securely confined, e.g. in a pen from which it cannot escape?
  • In the case of a large animal, e.g. bovine, horse or pig, can the carcase easily be moved from the spot where it will fall?
  • What methods of killing are available? This may be a deciding factor in whether or not the animal is moved to a more suitable spot.

Handling and Restraint

Animals should always be handled with great care. In many cases where animals have to be killed to protect their welfare, the animals may well be recumbent or their movement limited by their injuries or situation. However, there will be some animals which will require restraining in order to facilitate safe and effective killing. The following methods of restraint are suggested:


Pass a rope around the upper jaw, behind the canine teeth. The pig will pull away from the operator, who stands in front of the animal. This ensures that the shot is being discharged directly away from the operator.


Use a halter, or confine the animal in a narrow pen constructed of hurdles or gates.


Control with a head collar and lead rope, halter or bridle.


Use a halter or confine the animal in a narrow pen constructed of hurdles or gates.

Should there be any doubt in the mid of the operator as to the correct target area, then it should be identified (See Positioning) and, if possible, marked. This can be done using a spray marker, a felt pen, or in the case of a very dark-coated animal, French chalk.


When using a free-bullet weapon, it is most important that a suitable backdrop is present in order to stop the bullet, should it exit the carcase or should the target be missed. Suitable backdrops are manure heaps, hay or straw stacks, earth banks, etc. Make sure there is no ‘dead ground’ (hidden dips) between the target and the backdrop, from which people, vehicles or other animals may emerge. If no backdrop is present, the area behind the target must be clear of roads and dwellings to a distance of 3,000m. A ricochet from a .32 humane killer bullet can travel in excess of 2,000m. All people present must stand behind the operator, who should aim the shot down the spine and into the body of the animal.


Unless the carcase is to be used for human consumption, there is no necessity for it to be bled following shooting with a free-bullet weapon or shotgun. However, there may be profuse bleeding from the gunshot wound and the nose and/or mouth, due to the physical damage caused by the projectile. A thick, plastic bag can be placed over the head of the animal, immediately following shooting, in order to prevent large quantities of blood accumulating on the ground and to protect the sensibilities of any onlookers.


Having shot the animal, check that the shot has been effective. Look for an absence of rhythmic breathing and an absence of corneal reflex. After a lapse of up to a minute, the animal may start to twitch and, in some cases, convulse quite violently (especially pigs). This is normal in an animal which has been shot correctly. The foremost sign of an ineffective shot is a return to normal rhythmic breathing. This should not be confused with agonal breathing (occasional gasping), which is of spinal origin and indicative of a dying brain.

When there are different weapons available, the choice should be based on the following criteria:

  • The age and size of the animal
  • The species of animal
  • The location of the animal (e.g. in a built up area or rural open space with a suitable backdrop behind the target)
  • Accessibility of the target area
  • Individual circumstances (e.g. on a solid floor or soft ground; inside or outside; road traffic accident or racecourse casualty; emergency slaughter or routine culling)
  • Presence and safety of onlookers

Back to top