Content Header Mask
Science Blog

The Science Blog


Study proves decapitation is NOT a quick and painless death for rats

At the end of an animal experiment, the vast majority of animals are killed.  The methods used to kill animals include breaking of the neck, blows to the head, suffocation in gas chambers, an overdose of anaesthetic and decapitation. A recent study1 has added to the growing body of evidence that one of the methods, decapitation, does not in fact give a quick and painless death.

In the study, researchers in New Zealand inserted recording electrodes into the brains of anaesthetised male rats before placing them inside a small animal guillotine. The study found that the rats’ brains remained fully active for an average of 9.7 seconds after decapitation before brain activity began to decline. They were not, however, considered completely brain-dead until an average of 15 seconds after decapitation.

According to the researchers, the brain responses recorded during the first 10 seconds are consistent with those found in conscious animals subjected to pain in other studies. They therefore concluded that un-anaesthetised rats are likely to feel pain after decapitation for at least 10 seconds, right up until their brains have stopped working.

The use of conscious decapitation to kill animals used in experiments is not unusual. During our investigation at Imperial College London,2 rats were subjected to decapitation whilst fully conscious. Distressed rats were seen to struggle while their heads were forced into guillotines and sliced off, with some difficulty. Many of the rats’ bodies continued to struggle and their faces twitched even after their heads were severed.


1.       Electroencephalographic evaluation of decapitation of the anaesthetized rat. (2014). Laboratory Animals, 48(1): 15-19. Original article can be found here:

2.       Licensed to Kill – BUAV undercover investigation at Imperial College London: