Prepared by the CVMA Animal Welfare Committee 1991:
J. (Al) Longair, President (DVM); Gordon G. Finley (DVM); Marie-Andrée Laniel (DVM); Clayton Mackay (DVM); Ernest D. Olfert  (DVM); Allan Preston (DVM); Ken Mould (DVM); Harry Rowsell (DVM)


dotred.gif (326 bytes) Response - Enforcing the Law: Skills [Firearms]




All animals that need to be killed, whether it is for food, for humane reasons, or because they are homeless, must receive a quick and painless death. The proper disposal of stray and unwanted animals in small communities is one area of specific concern. Whenever possible, veterinary or experienced humane society personnel should be utilized to humanely kill stray or unwanted animals. However, in some smaller communities the materials, knowledge, and expertise necessary to humanely kill stray and unwanted animals may not be readily available.

If obtaining the services of a veterinarian or a humane society to perform euthanasia is not possible, it-is the view of the CVMA Animal Welfare Committee that the best alternative that provides for a humane death for the animal, is by shooting. The following brief guidelines are intended to assist persons who must perform this distasteful task; they contain recommended techniques that will help to ensure that any animals killed by shooting will die in a humane way.


For an animal to receive a humane death it should be rendered unconscious as rapidly as possible. Therefore most recommended methods of euthanasia involve agents that affect the brain very rapidly. Shooting, although aesthetically unpleasant, is a humane method of killing provided that the shot penetrates the brain. To ensure that this occurs, the weapon used must be fired with the muzzle placed close to the animal's head, pointing in the required direction. The animal should be adequately restrained to ensure proper placement of the shot. Each animal species has a slightly different brain positioning within the skull, therefore knowledge of these differences is essential.

Shooting an animal should only be done by persons well versed in handling firearms and licensed to use firearms, and only in jurisdictions that allow for firearm use. Ideally, local policing agencies should be involved. Safety to personnel and the general public must be considered. The procedure should be performed outdoors in a location away from public access. If police officers using their firearms are not available, the firearms that can be used for humanely shooting an animal from close range would be either a 22 calibre rifle with long rifle mushroom shells or a 410 gauge shotgun with slugs or pellets. In most cases, the barrel of the firearm should be 3-5 centimetres (1-2 inches) from the head if using a rifle, pistol or 410 gauge shotgun, or 1-2 meters (3-6 feet) if using a larger gauge shotgun or rifle (eg. a .308 rifle).

To facilitate the humane shooting of an animal, some familiarity with handling animals is necessary. The animal should be treated with a calm and reassuring manner to reduce any anxiety that the animal may have. An animal that becomes tense or excited will be more difficult to restrain and to kill humanely.

In come cases it may be advisable to sedate the animal before killing it. In some cases the shot may pass right through the animal's head, thus direction of shooting must be considered. It must be noted that although an animal shot correctly is instantly unconscious, there may be convulsive thrashing and muscle spasms for some seconds after the shot.



Dogs should always be handled and spoken to in a kind and calm manner. It may be necessary in some cases to muzzle unpredictable or nervous animals. Muzzling is easily done by taking a long piece of soft cord (or gauze, soft fabric or panty hose) and making a loop in the middle. The loop is slipped over the dog's muzzle and gently but firmly tightened with a single half hitch knot on top. The ends of the cord are then passed around under the muzzle, crossed over and tied behind the ears (see Figure 1).

Once the dog has relaxed, it can be taken outside, offered some food, and the leash secured to a solid object. It may be easier if the food is placed on a small stool or chair. The firearm is then aimed at a point midway between the level of the eyes and the base of the ears, but slightly off to one side so as to miss the bony ridge that runs down the middle of the skull (see Figures 2 and 3). The aim should be slightly across the dog and towards the spine. In some cases the shot may pass right through the animal's head, thus direction of shooting must be considered.

figures 1; 2; 3 (4447 bytes)


Members of the cat family may be very difficult to shoot humanely. It may be preferable to sedate these animals (medication can be added to their food, for example). It is recommended that the animal be placed into a canvas bag or thick blanket with only the head out. The firearm is then aimed at the centre of the cat's head slightly below a line drawn midway between the ears (see Figure 4). When proper technique has been used the animal will become unconscious immediately, but convulsive activity and bleeding may persist for a short period of time. In some cases the shot may pass right through the animal's head, thus direction of shooting must be considered.

figure 4 (3447 bytes)


Mature Cattle: The head should be secured in a chute or by halter and shank to a solid structure. Food can be placed down in front of the animal. The firearm is held at right angles to the slope of the front of the skull and aimed at a point 2/3 of the way up on the forehead at a point intersecting imaginary lines drawn between the back of the ears and the corners of the eyes (see Figures 5 and 6). It may be easier to shoot slightly to the side of the ridge that runs down the centre of the face.

Calves: Calves can be handled in the same manner as mature cattle but the aim of the firearm should be squarely on the midline of the forehead slightly lower than in mature cattle (see Figure 7).

figures 5; 6; 7(3900 bytes)


Sheep and Goats without Horns: Sheep and goats can be handled in the same manner as cattle - the head should be secured with a halter, and food offered to the animal. The aim of the firearm should be from behind or top of the head at a point high up on the head an equal distance from the eyes and ears (see Figure 8).

figure 8 (2262 bytes)

Sheep and Goats with Horns: If the animals have horns, the approach should be from the rear and the aim directed between the base of the horns towards the mouth (Figure 9). Alternatively the firearm can be aimed from the front just above the eyes on the midline, shooting towards the spine (see Figure 10). Goats are treated as per horned sheep (see Figure 11) .

figure 9; 10; 11 (2925 bytes)


Mature swine are hard to handle and can be very dangerous if aroused. A large bowl of feed placed before the animal may help to distract the animal. The bullet should enter the skull at a point 2 cm (1 in) above an imaginary line drawn between the eyes (see Figures 12 and 13). The aim should be well up into the skull.

figures 12; 13 (2531 bytes)


These animals should be haltered to control the head, and led to the desired location. Food can be placed on the ground and the animal allowed to eat. In these species, it is essential to aim the shot above the eyes as the brain is high in the upper part of the skull. The bullet should enter the skull at a point where an imaginary line crosses from the eyes to the ears (see Figures 14 and 15). The direction of the shot should be down towards the withers.

figure 14; 15 (3101 bytes)


1. AVA. 1987. Guidelines on humane slaughter and euthanasia. Australian Veterinary Association. Aust Vet J November, 4-6.

2. Carding T. 1977. Euthanasia of dogs and cats. Anim Reg Studies 1:15-21.

3. Short DJ and Woodnott DP (eds.). 1969. Ch. 13 Humane Killing. In: I.A.T. Manual of Laboratory Animal Practice and Techniques. Thomas, Illinois, USA. pp.231-243.

4. UFAW. 1978. Humane Killing of Animals. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Potters Bar, England.

5. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. Humane Killing of Animals. UFAW, Potters Bar, England. 1978.

September 4, 1998