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The text on this page is taken from an informal compilation of opinions of contributors to the online VOLE List. As such, they are not peer reviewed and may contain differences of opinion. Those wishing to contact the list may contact Adrian Smith.

I am having discussions with some of our PIL holders regarding the use of scissors for conscious decapitation in adult mice. From my personal viewpoint, I would like to see them using a guillotine beyond weaning, but they are arguing scissors do the same job and there is no need for a guillotine in mice. The use of scissors doesn't sit right with me or my colleagues, and I am looking online at SOPs from the US mainly, there seems to be quite a bit of variation in what people allow. I can't see any SOPs from the UK or Europe, so I wondered if people have a policy on this and if you allow scissors to be used for conscious decapitations?

We've had similar discussions. The conclusion that we drew is that scissors are not suitable for adult rodents for the following reasons:

  • Scissors crush as well as cutting tissue, so cause more trauma (pain).
  • It's challenging to ensure a 'clean and swift' cut through the neck, considering that there are thick tissues and bones to contend with, so it doesn't pass the 'instant kill' test.
  • Also there are scissors and there are scissors, so assuring reliable availability of suitably large, sharp scissors would likely be problematic.

Scissors could be allowed for neonatal rodents which haven't yet got hair (a 5-day-old mouse, for example).

Some groups use a large scalpel blade - on a handle - for neonates instead of scissors (but this might depend on your Health & Safety approach as to whether this is allowed). A purpose-built guillotine is used for any older rodents.

We've allowed SHARP scissors for decapitation in 2 days old rat pups, i.e. a new pair of scissors for each batch, but definitely not for adult mice as the  scissors would crush rather than cut if used on an adult.  Plus there is a specifically designed bit of kit for decapitation.

I am not familiar with how much the UK legislation resembles the EU Directive on this, but I wanted to also remind in this conversation that conscious decapitation is to be avoided, so the group should additionally justify the need (a) for decapitation versus other methods and (b) for not using sedation. Which is alone an argument for using the best available equipment. Other than that, I believe not only the use of the guillotine but also the use of decapicones is mandated for the benefit of all: the animal, the handler and the technique. If this is something they routinely use they can invest in it!

I believe it will be easier for them in the long-term because I can imagine it is difficult to control both hands on air when using the scissors plus controlling the power needed for this... why subject the (new) users to this stress and risk some unsuccessful attempts? You can use some arguments from the AVMA guidelines to support this, they mention the scissors only for neonates.

I believe a compromise would be to evaluate old users to verify their capability with the scissors but ask that all new users are trained with the guillotine.

The ASPA (UK legislation) is much more lenient on the matter of decapitation: it is allowed for 'Mammals and Birds up to 50g', with no other restriction.  In contrast, the Directive allows use in 'Birds under 250g', but restricts use in mammals to rodents (only), and then 'Only to be used if other methods are not possible'.

Do you know why they argue for it? Decapitation is psychologically an unpleasant technique, and perhaps they feel better with the instrument with which they are familiar. But it is a human problem, not the animal one. Scissors could be of different sizes, or not sharp enough. A person being upset at performing it could press too lightly, which could lead to slowing down the whole decapitation, which should be decisive and quick. Not to mention they could be unsuccessful at the first attempt. How much a person is upset is secondary to the well-being of the animal at the last stage of its life.

Indeed, that is why I proposed above to consider allowing competent users to continue with what they know, IF this is effective and acceptable.

However the scissors, apart from the different mode of operation described above, allows for more mistakes to be made due to hesitation or ineffective power applied. The guillotine with decapicone is the best option that I am aware of, and new users should follow this approach. I hope you can gather the list of refinements it offers and support this. In any case, I believe that no one should be forced to perform euthanasia with physical methods if they are not up to it. Again for all 3 reasons: the animal, the person and the technique.

It seems to me that the question should be “Can they show that the technique, as practised in the institution with the specified animals, causes death reliably and expeditiously with no distress to the animals?” Not “Do we find it aesthetically comfortable?” Technicians’ emotional responses are also very valid, but that is for the institution to deal with, and should not be interfered with by outside commentators.