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The Importance of Animal Restraint

Animal restraint and handling is integral to agriculture, the pet care industry, wildlife management, animal control, scientific and biological research, zoological societies and the veterinary industry. The scope of need and the reasons for restraint vary widely, as do the types of restraint employed by persons engaging in the aforementioned industries and professions.

Restraint is the use of manual, mechanical or chemical means to limit some or all of an animal's normal voluntary movement for the purposes of examination, collection of samples, drug administration, therapy, or manipulation.1

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), methods used for restraint “should provide the least restraint required to allow the specific procedure(s) to be performed properly, should minimize fear, pain, stress and suffering for the animal, and should protect both the animal and personnel from harm.” Any restraint technique should be devised and performed as to reduce the risk of injury to the animal.

Types of Animal Restraint Techniques

There are three types of restraint techniques used for animals in veterinary medicine:

  • Physical
  • Environmental
  • Chemical

Physical restraints limit an animal’s movement. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Manual restraint by a handler
  • Traps that temporarily restrain wild animals in the field
  • Muzzles which prevent a frightened animal from biting a handler
  • Tongs or graspers
  • Nets (for some birds and smaller animals)
  • Towels, cloths and blankets
  • Halters to control the head of larger domesticated animals
  • Head collars (primarily for the head control of equines)1

Manual restraint for many small animals can be further broken down into techniques such as grasping mice and rats by the base of the tail, cradling techniques that support the backs of rabbits, holding techniques for venipuncture, species that can be grasped by loose skin or specialty techniques for holding younger animals within a given species.

Environmental restraints control an animal’s mobility. These include such things as temporary traps, cages, kennels, runs or stalls. Additionally, there are purpose-designed enclosures and restraint devices that are used in some industries (e.g., agriculture, biomedical research).

Chemical restraint involves any form of medication used to inhibit an animals’ movement and responses. This is required in the veterinary practice to immobilize domestic animals for medical treatments; it is also used in zoo settings, and in wild animals in the field. Wild animals may be immobilized for relocation purposes, bio-measurement, ear-tagging, microchipping, vaccinations, radio collaring or deworming. In certain instances, blood and hair collection may also be performed for DNA testing.1 Chemical immobilization (tranquilization, sedation and/or anesthesia) of animals should always take place under the direction of a licensed veterinarian (in the U.S., this is a legal requirement).

Why is Animal Restraint Important?

Proper restraint and handling techniques are essential for reducing stress and the risk of injury to animals and handlers. While some means of restraint are only properly used on an as-needed basis (e.g., traps, chemical immobilization), it is well-established that animals become much easier to work with when they are accustomed (acclimatized) to handling. In most cases, this facilitates easy handling of the animal on a regular basis. For example, the bodies governing the care and use of laboratory animals (ACUC) recommend the regular handling of laboratory animals to reduce stress on the animals, thereby enhancing humane treatment and reducing the risk of physiological stressors potentially impacting the results of research studies.

Other areas of importance lie with the need at hand. In wildlife management and animal control scenarios, personnel are interacting with feral animals or wild species that are not accustomed to handling and restraint. As such, these interactions have the potential to bring about high levels of stress which can present physical danger to the animal. When capturing many wildlife and exotic species, inordinate stress can give rise to capture myopathy, a potentially fatal metabolic syndrome, as well as other serious complications.

Additionally, some animals, when frightened, animals have the capacity for injuring themselves and/or human handlers. In such cases, it is extremely important to have carefully-devised protocols for interacting with these animals, as well as skilled personnel executing them.

Interested in learning more about safe capture? 
The San Diego Zoo now offers courses in safe capture techniques and best practices. Learn reliable, safe, and effective techniques for the species you work with and the scenarios you encounter!


2Kreeger, T., Arnemo, J. Handbook of Wildlife Chemical Immobilization. Fifth edition, 2018.