Sedation and chemical restraint of deer

Sedation and chemical restraint of deer
Peer reviewed


This review examines the properties of chemical immobilising agents of use or potential use in deer for velvet antler removal. The alpha-2-adrenergic agonist, xylazine, is the most commonly used agent for chemical restraint of stags for this purpose in New Zealand. This compound is often combined with an opioid or ketamine to enhance its effectiveness. Concerns about the carcinogenic potential of a xylazine metabolite have led to a call by the deer industry to limit the use of this drug and stimulated enquiry into alternatives. The potent pure opioid agonists, fentanyl, carfentanil and etorphine, are less effective than xylazine when used alone, and their use presents greater risk to operators and animals and is subject to more stringent legal restrictions. Newer alpha-2-adrenergic agonists, detomidine and medetomidine, are more potent than xylazine and unlikely to result in carcinogenic metabolites. Availability of specific alpha-2-adrenergic antagonists further enhances the usefulness of these drugs. The dissociative agent, ketamine, has proven useful for immobilisation of various domestic and wildlife species and captive species of deer but undesirable side effects and the low concentration, relative to the effective dose, of currently available formulations limit its usefulness. Combination of a dissociative agent with an alpha-2-adrenergic agent reduces the required dose of both and enhances their efficacy. A commercially available combination of the dissociative anaesthetic agent, tiletamine, and the benzodiazepine, zolazepam, is more potent than ketamine and induction times are faster. This combination can be manipulated to varying concentrations by dissolution with alpha-2-adrenergic agents. A long-acting neuroleptic agent, zuclopenthixol, has recently been investigated for calming deer and may be an alternative to classical sedative-immobilising agents. Most chemical immobilisation agents used alone or in combination produce respiratory depression and supplemental oxygen has been recommended. All would likely result in some form of chemical residues in velvet antler.
KEY WORDS: Chemical immobilisation, tranquiliser, sedative, alpha-2-adrenergic agonist, dissociative, zuclopenthixol, opioid, deer, velvet antler removal

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