Euthanasia is a difficult subject to consider, but our aim is to provide a humane and painless experience for your horse. Having any animal put to sleep is a distressing experience, so it is a good idea to plan ahead in order to avoid rushed decisions under difficult circumstances.
When is the right time?
It may be that you are required to make a decision regarding euthanasia as a result of an emergency but with most horses it is usually an elective decision based on a combination of chronic weight loss and/or lameness, often associated with age. It is often difficult to say exactly when the right time is but as a guide, the primary concern should be your horse’s quality of life. If he/she is particularly thin or lame, has difficulty getting up and is left behind or bullied by the herd then it may be appropriate to consider euthanasia.
Where should it be done?
Most horses are euthanised at their own yard so that they are relaxed in their surroundings. Ideally a flat area of grass is a suitable site, preferably with vehicular access.
Considering their companions
Other horses may also need to be considered. Horses usually accept the loss of their companions well, but where two horses have a very close bond it is worth considering management of the other horse. Sometimes we prescribe sedatives for companions if they are particularly distressed in the days afterwards. In such cases we suggest letting companions see the horse after euthanasia and even leaving them together in the field for some time afterwards. Please feel free to discuss these issues with us and we will try to help. Certainly, discuss the euthanasia with other people in a shared yard who may be around at the time or who have horses which have a close bond with your own.
How is it carried out?
There are 2 methods of euthanasia commonly used:
This is the most common method.
The horse is given an overdose of an anaesthetic type drug by intravenous injection. A sedative may be given first so that the horse does not become distressed when it starts to feel sleepy, they then lose consciousness and gently subside. Horses are fully unconscious when he/she falls to the ground and are therefore unaware of their heart stopping. Occasionally horses can twitch or appear to gasp once they have been euthanised. This is normal and is the result of the muscles, including the diaphragm, relaxing. The horse is unaware of this, but it can be distressing for owners if they are not aware that this can happen.
This method of euthanasia results in instant death of the horse. Again, a sedative may be given first. The barrel of the gun is placed on the horse’s forehead. The horse will fall down instantly, and blood may pour from his/her nose/head. With this method there may also be involuntary movements of the horse’s legs and occasional gasps for a short period of time after the shot is made. Again, this is normal, and the horse will be completely unaware. Not all vets carry a gun routinely and so this needs to be booked specifically. Whilst this method may appear less peaceful it is sometimes a better and more dignified end for a horse (especially one that is very needle shy).
How to dispose of the body?
The options for disposal of the body are limited and depend on the method of euthanasia and the health of the horse when it died.
When you make the appointment to have your horse euthanised we can arrange for the body to be disposed of at the same time. In an emergency situation this may not always be possible.
If your horse has been given drugs such as euthanasian injection, painkillers etc. your horse may need to be cremated.
It is possible, by arrangement, to have your horse’s ashes back. There is an additional cost associated with this option
You need to check with your local Trading Standards Office whether this is permitted. The European Union Regulations do not allow burial of pet horses as they consider the horse to be a food animal. At the time of writing, DEFRA does allow burial of pet horses at the discretion of the local authority. Each case is considered on an individual basis and will depend on local water courses etc. (Please refer to www.gov.uk/fallen-stock for further information).
Should I be there?
This is a commonly asked question for which there is no right or wrong answer. Rest assured that everyone concerned will want your horse’s last minutes to be peaceful. Kernow Equine care about animals and are used to dealing with this sensitive task. Some people find watching the euthanasia of their horse provides closure for them whilst others prefer to remember their horse as they were. If you are able to be calm and relaxed during the procedure, then your presence is likely to be reassuring for your horse, if not, it may be better to ask a trusted friend to do this for you as your anxiety will be picked up by your horse. Your vet may require you or someone on your behalf to sign a consent form. In a yard of several horses it is essential someone is there who can correctly identify your horse.
Notification of the insurance company
If the horse is insured for loss of use and a claim is going to be made, the insurance company must be notified in advance. With the exception of an emergency situation, the permission of the insurers is needed otherwise the claim may be invalidated.
If done on humane grounds, this must meet certain criteria to satisfy the requirements of a mortality insurance policy. The British Equine Veterinary Association guidelines state that euthanasia should be carried out if ‘the insured horse sustains an injury or manifests an illness or disease that is so severe as to warrant immediate destruction to relieve incurable and excessive pain and that no other option of treatment are available to that horse at that time’. The insurers should be notified as soon as possible. They will require a veterinary certificate confirming the identity of the horse and the reason why it was euthanised. They may also ask for a post-mortem.
In some cases, we may ask if you wish for a post-mortem to be carried out. Post-mortems can help determine the cause of death if your horse/pony died unexpectedly. In some situations, insurance companies may insist on a post-mortem before a mortality claim is paid out.