September 05, 2018

Interpretive Summary: Caretaker attitudes toward swine euthanasia.

Interpretive Summary: Caretaker attitudes toward swine euthanasia.

By: Surely Wallace

In an September 2018 article published in Translational Animal Science, researchers categorized caregiver attitudes towards swine euthanasia through self-assessment surveys. The surveys asked questions about caretaker empathy, confidence, and knowledge of euthanasia. The goal was to better define and understand caretaker experiences, which may be useful to improve euthanasia training protocol and best practices.

Humane and appropriate timing of euthanasia is critically important to minimize the suffering of swine. The attitudes of caretakers on swine farms are thought to affect euthanasia outcomes, but comprehensive studies in this area are lacking. Therefore, the authors of this paper chose to conduct a study to evaluate caretaker attitudes towards swine euthanasia to fill these knowledge gaps.

Caretakers were provided with self-assessment surveys, using a 5-point Likert scale. Demographic data such as farm size, caretaker age, gender, and years of past experience with swine, livestock and euthanasia, were also collected. Attitude parameters evaluated included empathy effect and attribution, decision-making skills, confidence, euthanasia skillset, prior work training, and perceived knowledge. The authors found three categories or “clusters” of caretakers: (1) confident and empathetic, (2) confident, knowledgeable and detached, and (3) unconfident and lacking knowledge.

Results indicated that empathy attribution was higher in female caretakers and was significantly correlated with empathy effect (negative attitudes towards euthanasia). This correlation may be potentially relevant to compassion fatigue, which may affect the timing and appropriateness of euthanasia. Female caretakers in this study were also four times more likely to be in cluster 1. Cluster 2 included individuals with work experience of more than 2 years. Cluster 3 included individuals with work experience of less than 2 years. Cluster 3 interestingly included no females in this study, however it is very important to note the following study limitations: in addition to limited number of farm workers evaluated (84 caretakers across 8 farms), 86.4% of participants were male while 13.6% of participants were female, and all females worked on small- or medium-sized farms.

The results of this study suggest that empathy, confidence and experience may potentially be important factors to consider in swine euthanasia outcomes and training. These results are relevant to consider for best practices in euthanasia training because individuals in cluster 3 had reported difficulty in decision making for euthanizing a pig, and a lack of confidence in handling, diagnosing and euthanizing sick and injured pigs. The authors reported that in this study, clusters 1 and 2 were primarily correlated with small or medium-sized farms; however, the authors stress cautious interpretation due to study limitation of only 8 farms. Larger studies looking at caretaker attitudes and potential association of attitudes with euthanasia outcomes on small, medium and large farms is warranted.

To view the full article, “Caretaker attitudes toward swine euthanasia,” visit Translational Animal Science.