It is every horse owner’s most difficult decision but it is an eventuality that many horse owners and keepers sadly face. There are often many reasons why a horse may be euthanized but common ones include old age, serious injury or as a result of an on-going disease/illness. Horses are euthanized by one of two methods:
This method involves the veterinary surgeon administering sedation to relax the horse and suppress any cardiovascular and respiratory systems. They then will place a catheter and inject a larger lethal dose of barbiturate. This method allows horses to drop gradually, experiencing a rapid loss of consciousness. The veterinary surgeon will remain with the horse until all natural reflex reactions have ceased. Please don’t be alarmed by any twitching, noises and muscle tremors as they are normal and is not an indication that the euthanasia has been unsuccessful.
By human gun.
This method involves a suitably trained and competent person (not always a vet) to use a firearm to euthanize the horse. The muzzle of the gun is placed against the horse’s forehead, and a bullet is then discharged into the brain. This kills the horse immediately and it will fall to the ground straight away. Some bleeding from the bullet hole and the nostrils is to be expected, though it can range from a slight trickle to a strong discharge. Twitching of limbs are to be expected.
Euthanasia (if in a non-emergency situation) should be well planned and performed somewhere safe, private and have easy access for a car and trailer. We often advise the euthanasia to take place somewhere that is familiar to the horse to reduce any additional stress. We also advise that if there are two closely bonded horses (mare and foal or two elderly companions) that it may appropriate to allow the other animal to come over for a short period of time to sniff the euthanized animal to let them accept that the animal is dead.
It is recommended to have a blanket or rug at hand to place over the body to reduce distress to anyone in the vicinity especially in big busy livery yards. We also advise you to contact your insurance company to inform them of the decision as this can often accept ‘loss of use’ claims.
We are happy to organise the arrangements for the disposal of the body if you would prefer. There are many options including whether you would like to have the ashes back or not and these can vary in prices. Please let us know if you would like us to arrange this, we would be more than happy to.
As an owner, we understand how difficult this decision is. Once the decision has been made, the owner may feel nervous, anxious or inconsolably upset. If this is the case, the horse may be affected by the owner’s emotional state. The professionals involved are trained for these scenarios and understand if the owner does not want to stay as it can be very distressing. If the owner, friends or family will most likely become upset, they must say good bye to the horse before and leave the euthanasia in the capable and caring hands of the professionals.
After losing a horse or pony, it is often like losing a family member. There are many different stages of grief including anger, guilt, shock, even depression but finally acceptance. These stages are normal and are to be expected. We are always here to talk to you and our vets can advise further if required. There are Pet Bereavement Support Services that provide a telephone and email helpline (https://www.bluecross.org.uk/2083/Pet-BereavementSupportService.html). They are open 7 days a week from 8.30am – 8.30pm and can be contacted on 08000966606.