TORONTO — Health Canada is warning that there will be a global shortage in euthanasia drugs for animals due to an explosion at a manufacturing plant overseas, but according to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), pet owners in Canada shouldn’t worry.
On Tuesday, Health Canada posted an alert for veterinarians, stating that they became aware earlier in 2021 that an incident at a manufacturing site would cause a global shortage of pentobarbital sodium, which is the “active ingredient used in most euthanasia products for animals,” the alert explained.
“A shortage is expected to impact the existing Canadian supply in mid-to late 2021 and continue until mid-2022,” the agency stated.
“Health Canada is working in collaboration with CAHI (Canadian Animal Health Institute), the CVMA, drug manufacturers, importers and distributors to mitigate the impact on the veterinary health system and Canadians requiring end-of-life care for their animals/pets.”
The CVMA told CTVNews.ca in an email that they had been aware of the shortage before Health Canada’s public announcement.
“Drugs shortages do occur from time to time so in that sense it was not a surprise, however given the importance of this particular drug to the welfare of animals in Canada it immediately became a matter of great concern,” the CVMA stated.
The exact products that are affected include Euthanyl, Euthanyl Forte and Dorminal, all of which are used with “dogs, cats, horses, cattle, laboratory animals and birds,” according to Health Canada. Euthanyl and Euthanyl Forte are also used with mink.
The shortage is concerning because being able to offer euthanasia is an important part of veterinary services.
“Euthanasia is an extremely important aspect of veterinary practice that allows pet parents and their veterinarian to ensure that a beloved animal has a gentle and painless end to its life,” the CVMA said. “It is (a) special privilege for veterinarians to oversee and manage the euthanasia of an animal and a responsibility that veterinarians take very seriously.”
CAHI also posted an alert about the situation in late May. They stated that the manufacturing site needed to recover from the explosion, which occurred in December 2020.
“As this manufacturing site works to restore operations, the shortage of the active ingredient is beginning to have an impact on the global supply of euthanasia products,” the release said.
Health Canada and CAHI did not provide any further details regarding the explosion. CAHI is a trade association whose members are responsible for the majority of the animal health products sold in Canada.
It asked for Canadian veterinarians to administer only the recommended amount of pentobarbital sodium, and to order only the amount of euthanasia drugs that they would need at their practice, avoiding stockpiling that could exacerbate shortage for other veterinarians.
It was advice that Health Canada and CVMA echoed.
The CVMA said that were “recommending that veterinarians conserve supplies to the extent possible and share supplies with their colleagues, in accordance with regulations, if the need arises.”
It added that it was working on guidelines for alternative methods of euthanasia that do not use pentobarbital sodium, in case alternatives are needed.
“The CVMA, through an expert advisory committee that includes veterinary pharmacists, anaesthesiologists, palliative care experts and species specialists is developing resources and guidance on products, methods and protocols that can be used as alternatives to pentobarbital sodium products for euthanasia that will be shared broadly across Canada’s veterinary health system,” they stated on their website.
The CVMA told CTVNews.ca that pet owners “shouldn’t worry” that there might not be a dignified end for their pet available.
“Existing supplies of pentobarbital are being managed prudently, alternate supplies are being sought, and veterinarians can employ alternative methods of euthanasia that are as humane and effective as pentobarbital sodium.”
Health Canada added in its statement that it is “currently assessing whether foreign authorized alternative euthanasia products could potentially be imported on a temporary basis to mitigate this shortage.”