Equine euthanasia: having a horse put down

Concerns are continuing to grow over the ever-mounting numbers of unaffordable and unwanted horses in the UK.

Rescue centres are being stretched to the limit of their resources because there are simply too many animals for the number of good homes available.

Local authorities have recently warned that a cull of neglected horses may be necessary as a last resort.

Therefore it is more important than ever that horse owners make sound and sensible judgements about when is the best time to say goodbye.

Keeping an animal alive that is suffering and has no quality of life is as much a welfare issue as the plight of the many rescue cases that make the headlines.

Signs that a horse still has a good quality of life include:

  • The horse is still eating and not losing body condition
  • He is showing normal behaviour in the field
  • He is rolling as normal
  • He is still able to get up from lying down or rolling without any real difficulty

If the horse is struggling with any of these points, then it may be that euthanasia is the kindest option.

Who can perform euthanasia?
Shooting:

  • A vet, hunt kennelman or fallen stock gatherer. All require a firearms licence

Intravenous lethal injection:

  • A vet only

Where should it be done?
Shooting:

  • Somewhere with a soft landing
  • With good vehicle access
  • Obstacle-free to avoid ricochet

Intravenous lethal injection:

  • Somewhere with a soft landing
  • With good vehicle access

What will happen during the procedure?
Shooting:

  • The horse will be sedated so that he is unaware of the gun being placed on the front of his head
  • He will fall instantly and vertically to the ground
  • There will be some blood from the bullet hole and nostrils — the amount will vary
  • There will be some limb movement and occasional reflex gasps
  • He may defecate and urinate
  • His eyes will stay open

Intravenous lethal injection:

  • The horse will be sedated
  • An intravenous catheter will be placed in his neck
  • A lethal injection will be administered
  • There will be a short delay of up to 30sec
  • His breathing will deepen
  • He will sink slowly to the ground
  • There may be occasional reflex gasps
  • He may defecate and urinate
  • His eyes will stay open

What happens to my horse’s body?
Shooting:

  • It can be removed by a hunt kennels, a fallen stock service or a pet crematorium. If cremated, you can have your horse’s ashes back at extra cost.
  • If you want to bury your horse’s body, you need to request permission from your local Trading Standards office, who have a set of guidelines to adhere to

Intravenous lethal injection:

  • A fallen stock service or a pet crematorium. If cremated, you can have your horse’s ashes back at extra cost to the figure quoted below.
  • If you want to bury your horse’s body, you need to request permission from your local Trading Standards office, who have a set of guidelines to adhere to

Overall cost
Shooting:

  • Varies around UK, but approx £220-360

Intravenous lethal injection:

  • Varies around UK, but approx £480-600

To read the full veterinary article about euthanasia see the current issue of H&H (8 November 2012)

Read more about euthanasia