History and best practices of captive bolt euthanasia for swine

This week, we are sharing a literature review based on a collaboration between Drs. John Deen and Perle Zhitnitskiy and the animal welfare team at the University of Wisconsin River Falls, led by Dr. Kurt Vogel. In this open-access publication from the Journal of Translational Animal Science, the authors review the history of captive bolt euthanasia, best practices and current challenges faced by the swine industry including the euthanasia of mature swine.

Key points

Inline (top) and pistol (bottom) examples of penetrating captive bolt.
  • Absence of sensibility markers does not equal to insensibility.
  • The absence of corneal reflex, absence of eyelash reflex absence of rhythmic breathing, and absence of menace reflex are markers of insensibility.
  • Three to four markers of insensibility are required to consider an animal insensible.
  • Non Penetrating Captive Bolt devices have been successfully validated as a single-step method of euthanasia for neonatal and preweaning swine, and a two-step method of euthanasia for nursery swine.
  • Penetrating Captive Bolt has been identified as a successful single-step euthanasia method for nursery and market swine.
  • No consensus regarding the captive bolt placement for euthanasia of mature swine.


The definition of animal welfare includes how an animal dies. As such, euthanasia is intrinsically linked to animal welfare, and ensuring a good death through effective, safe, and validated practices is a critical piece of promoting positive animal welfare. The objective of this review is to provide a better understanding of the literature on the euthanasia of swine via penetrating captive bolt (PCB) and nonpenetrating captive bolt (NPCB), as well as a history of captive bolt use, and indicators of sensibility and insensibility. To do this, we performed a systematic review that included 30 peer-reviewed articles and 17 other publications. NPCB devices have been validated as an effective single-step euthanasia method for neonatal and preweaning swine, as well as a two-step euthanasia method for nursery swine. PCB devices have been validated as an effective euthanasia method for nursery and market swine up to 120 kg, but further investigation is required for the use of captive bolt devices on mature breeding sows and boars.

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