Non-survival surgery is defined as a surgery in which the animal is euthanized before recovery from anesthesia. This includes procedures where an incision is created following the administration of a lethal or sub-lethal dose of anesthesia, but prior to actual death of the animal. It also includes some tissue collection procedures where tissues/organs are harvested prior to cessation of the heartbeat. Note, however, that cardiac perfusion without antemortem tissue harvest is classified as a euthanasia procedure rather than a non-survival surgery.

All animals undergoing non-survival surgery must be listed under Pain Category D (pain/distress relieved by use of appropriate anesthetics, analgesics, tranquilizers, or by euthanasia) or Pain Category E (pain/distress cannot be relieved by use of anesthetics, analgesics, or tranquilizers, as the use of these agents would interfere with the experimental design) if the animals will undergo additional procedures that fall under that category.

General Guidelines for Non-survival Surgical Procedures

According to USDA Animal Care Policy #3, “Nonsurvival surgery does not require aseptic techniques or dedicated facilities.” However, there may be instances when aseptic technique is warranted. Factors such as the degree of tissue trauma, surgical site (e.g., gastrointestinal surgery), harvesting of tissues and cells, collection of donor tissue, or extended duration may influence the decision to use aseptic technique. If aseptic technique is determined to be necessary, all personnel involved in these procedures must complete the Aseptic Surgical Techniques Training course through DLAM. For additional information in aseptic technique in rodents, please refer to the ARC Policy on Survival Surgery in Mice, Rats, and Birds. Ultimately, all personnel should follow the procedures described in their approved animal protocol.

For non-survival procedures not requiring the use of aseptic technique, the following guidelines must be followed: the surgical site should be clipped, a clean lab coat or gown and clean gloves should be worn, and the instruments and surrounding area should be clean (non-sterile instruments and supplies are acceptable). Note that procedures conducted on animals exposed to hazardous agents or animals with potential for zoonoses (e.g., nonhuman primates) may require additional personal protective equipment.

Non-survival surgeries not performed in a dedicated facility must be performed in a clean area, free of clutter, and using acceptable veterinary sanitation practices analogous to those used in a standard examination/treatment room. The area immediately surrounding where surgery is conducted must not be used for other purposes during the time of surgery. Personnel present in the area must observe strict cleanliness practices for both themselves and the animals.

Use of Drugs and Other Compounds in Non-survival Surgery

In accordance with PHS and USDA requirements, as well as the ARC Policy on Use of Pharmaceutical-Grade Compounds, all drugs and compounds administered to animals during surgery, including terminal procedures, must be of human or veterinary pharmaceutical-grade formulations when available. If non-pharmaceutical grade drugs or compounds will be used, this must be justified in the relevant ARC protocol and approved by the Committee.

Pharmaceutical Grade controlled substances, emergency, anesthetic, analgesic, and euthanasia drugs may not be used beyond the date of expiration, even if used only for terminal procedures. Other types of expired medical materials may be used in non-survival procedures with restrictions (see ARC Policy on Expired Medical Materials for more details).

Pre-surgical Evaluation & Treatment

Pre-existing health conditions may negatively affect the success of surgical procedures. Performing pre-surgical evaluations will help ensure that the animals are not overtly ill. This must include visual inspection of the animal and assessment of behavioral status. The animal must be alert and behaving normally, and must have a smooth coat and clear eyes. Physical or behavioral abnormalities must be brought to the attention of the DLAM veterinary staff.

Although it is common practice in some larger animal species, withholding food or water is generally not necessary for rodents or birds unless specifically mandated by the protocol or surgical procedure (e.g., gastrointestinal surgery). Withholding food or water for more than six hours must be discussed with a DLAM veterinarian and described in the approved ARC protocol.


The anesthetic regimen for any surgical procedure must be determined in consultation with a DLAM veterinarian and must be described in the approved research protocol. Depending on the nature and duration of the procedure, it may be appropriate to administer a single, lethal dose of anesthesia prior to surgery, or maintain the animal under a surgical plane of anesthesia followed by a lethal dose of anesthesia or physical method of euthanasia at the completion of the surgery.

Generally, inhaled anesthetics (e.g., isoflurane) are recommended for long procedures that would otherwise require multiple administrations of an injectable anesthetic (e.g., ketamine/xylazine). Regardless of the choice of anesthetic, a surgical plane of anesthesia must be established prior to initiating the procedure and a consistent plane of anesthesia must be maintained for the duration of surgery until euthanasia is carried out. Anesthetic depth may be monitored in a number of ways (e.g., respiration rate, corneal reflex, absence of a response from a toe pinch) and may vary depending upon the species and anesthetic agent used. For example, in rodents and birds, it is generally not necessary or feasible to monitor heart rate.

For guidance in the selection and use of anesthetics, please contact a DLAM veterinarian.

Surgical Procedures

Surgery must be performed by qualified personnel. Individuals must be appropriately trained to ensure that good surgical technique is practiced (e.g., gentle tissue handling, minimal dissection of tissue, appropriate use of instruments, and effective hemostasis).

Hair and feathers must be removed in an area separate from where the surgery will be performed, and the surgical site must be appropriately cleaned. To minimize contamination of the surgical site, gloves should be changed following preparation of the animal and prior to starting the surgery.

All surgical procedures must be conducted as described in the approved protocol. For all procedures, normal body temperature and hydration status must be maintained.

Paralytic agents may not be used without anesthesia. If a neuromuscular blocking agent is required for the surgical procedure, please refer to the ARC Policy on Neuromuscular Blocking Agents.

Record-keeping Requirements

Records of all non-survival surgeries must be maintained in accordance with USDA requirements and recommendations of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International. These records must include the administration of anesthetics, fluids, and any drugs; details of the procedure, including intra-operative monitoring; the method of euthanasia, including all drugs administered to cause death; and the initials of the individual performing these tasks. All medications, including the name, dose, route, and time of administration must be recorded. Additionally, any adverse outcomes requiring euthanasia of the animal prior to completion of the procedure must be noted.

Please note that all locations where non-survival surgeries are performed are subject to inspection by the ARC. All records relating to surgical procedures are subject to review during inspection or audit and must be available during regular business hours.

Approved 5/9/05; Revised 4/20/15; Updated 7/26/19