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Nitrous oxide as a humane method for piglet euthanasia: behavior and electroencephalography (EEG)

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-03, 14:41 authored by Jean-Loup Rault, Nikki Kells, Craig Johnson, Rachel Dennis, Mhairi Sutherland, Don Lay
The search for humane methods to euthanize piglets is critical to address public concern that current methods are not optimal. Blunt force trauma is considered humane but aesthetically objectionable. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used but criticized as aversive. This research sought to: 1) evaluate the aversiveness of inhaling nitrous oxide (N2O; ‘laughing gas’) using an approach-avoidance test relying on the piglet’s perspective, and 2) validate its humaneness to induce loss of consciousness by electroencephalography (EEG). The gas mixtures tested were N2O and air (90%:10%; ‘90N’); N2O, oxygen and air (60%:30%:10%; ‘60N’); and CO2 and air (90%:10%; ‘90C’). Experiment 1 allowed piglets to walk freely between one chamber filled with air and another prefilled with 60N or 90N. All piglets exposed to 60N lasted for the 10 min test duration whereas all piglets exposed to 90N had to be removed within 5 min because they fell recumbent unresponsive and then started to flail. Experiment 2 performed the same test except the gas chamber held N2O prefilled at 25%, 50%, or 75% or CO2 prefilled at 7%, 14%, or 21%. The test was terminated more quickly at higher concentrations due to the piglets’ responses. Time spent ataxic was greater in the middle concentration gradients. Flailing behavior tended to correlate with increasing concentrations of CO2 but not N2O. Experiment 3, using the minimal anesthesia model, showed that both 90N and 90C induced isoelectric EEG, in 71 and 59 sec respectively, but not 60N within 15 min. The EEG results together with the observed behavioral changes reflect differences in the animal’s perceptive experience. The implications for animal welfare are that N2O is much less aversive than CO2, and 90% N2O can euthanize piglets.


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© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • English

Does this contain Māori information or data?

  • No



Journal title

Physiology and Behavior




Rault, J-L., Kells, N., Johnson, C., Dennis, R., Sutherland, M., & Lay Jr, D. C. (2015). Nitrous oxide as a humane method for piglet euthanasia: behavior and electroencephalography (EEG). Physiology & Behavior, 151, 29-37. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2015.06.026

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