The majority of horse owners will one day be faced with the inevitable situation of needing to have their horse put to sleep (euthanased).
It is often something that people are in general quite unprepared for. We hope that you find this information useful and help you understand exactly what options are available.
Whether it is during an emergency colic, or the decision to have an old pony put to sleep, the decision to euthanase is never easy. Some examples of situations where your horse may need to be euthanased, include fractured legs, recumbency, emaciation or terminally ill. The decision of when to have your horse euthanased does rest with you unless it is an emergency situation. A simple rule of thumb for elderly horses is when they regularly have difficulty getting up after lying down. Other examples include failure to respond to therapy, aggressive or dangerous behaviour. Here at The Minster Equine Veterinary Practice, we are always available to talk to owners who are considering this difficult decision, and would encourage you to talk to us about the options available, if and when the time comes. Please do not hesitate to contact any of our Veterinary Surgeons or our office for more details.
At The Minster Equine Veterinary Practice we offer two options of euthanasia, via lethal injection, or bullet. An appointment can be made at your convenience (unless in an emergency situation) for one of our vets or a registered gun licence holder to come to your yard to perform the euthanasia. We will always ensure that we talk you through the process fully so that you are aware and prepared for the process.
When your horse is euthanased by lethal injection, they will be sedated to ease the procedure, this may make them a little wobbly on their feet. At this point your vet will slowly inject the drug directly into the vein. The drug used is a concentrated form of an anaesthetic agent, after a few minutes, you commonly see a few deep breaths and the horse collapses to the floor. Unfortunately, we cannot control which way, or how they collapse, however our vets will try to guide your horse down the best they can. As soon as you see the deep breaths and their knees start to give way, your horse is anaesthetised, and totally unaware of what is happening. Once down, your horse will drift into a deeper and deeper plain of unconsciousness until their heart stops, this typically only takes a few minutes.
The other option is via a gun (firearm), using a free bullet, the horse is sometimes sedated first or is distracted by eating a bucket feed, depending on their temperament. It is a very efficient and quick way of euthanasia. The muzzle of the gun is placed against the horse’s forehead and the bullet is discharged into the brain, killing the horse immediately. Once the horse has been shot it falls immediately to the ground, there may be some involuntary reflex movement of the legs but the body is generally quite still. Occasionally there is some bleeding from the bullet hole and nose.
Whilst it may appear less peaceful to the owner it is often a more dignified end for the horse, especially those that are needle shy. If you would like to choose this method then we can arrange a suitably experienced person to carry out the procedure, you may request that we attend also in case sedation is required. We have a gun, and firearms certification.
In the event of sudden death or if your horse is euthanased at home, you may have to arrange for disposal of your horse’s body. Please do not hesitate to discuss options with us or find out what facilities are available in your area for cremation or incineration and consider the costs involved. If your horse was suffering from a disease or was euthanased by lethal injection this may limit your disposal options.
These options include simple or individual cremation at a local pet crematorium of your choice. We can arrange for the collection of your horse and cremation of your horse should that be your preference. Some local hunts also provide euthanasia by bullet and a sympathetic disposal service, in some circumstances this is a cheaper option worth considering. If you have the facilities to bury your horse on your own land, there are very strict guidelines that must be adhered to, as horses are generally considered “Farm animals” by government authorities (please refer to https://www.gov.uk/fallen-stock for further information)
If you would like to book an appointment for euthanasia, please call our team who will guide you through the process.
If you are currently struggling with a recent bereavement, then you can speak directly with our staff members for support. There are also other pet bereavement services available to help, support and give guidance, which are free services:
Blue Cross for pets: 0800 0966606
Friends at the end (British Horse Society): 02476 840517
The death of your horse is not a subject most people like to think about. However, it is important to consider what you will do and to plan ahead so that you are able to cope with any eventuality. We urge you to remember that your horse depends on you to make rational, informed decisions, often in difficult circumstances and you should ensure that your horse’s welfare is always put first.