Equine Euthanasia

A horse stands at a gate in a forest.There are many reasons why a horse may have to be euthanized. Inoperable colic, chronic lameness, severe traumatic disease, debilitation in old age, dangerous behavioral traits are some of the reasons. The list is long and every situation cannot be mentioned.

As the horse’s owner, you ultimately have the responsibility for determining its fate. Your veterinarian will provide you with medical information to help you fully understand your horse’s prognosis.

Your veterinarian cannot decide for you whether or not you should chose to euthanize. However, a vet can be good counsel in helping you understand why it may be best. He/she will also explain the options available to you. If you are in doubt about the prognosis or your options, it is important to get a second opinion if time allows.

If you and your veterinarian have agreed that euthanasia is the best choice, it is important to prepare as best you can. Please see the pet euthanasia page. It will ease the process if you are able to make the decision in advance rather than under emergency conditions. Some important factors to keep in mind are:

  • Determine when and where would be most comfortable and practical for you, the veterinarian and the horse.
  • If you board your horse you should inform the stable manager or owner of the impending situation.
  • Decide if you wish to be present during the procedure. You are the only person who can make this decision. You may wish to ask somebody else to be there with you — or in your place.
  • For safety reasons your vet will probably not allow you to be touching or holding the horse when it is euthanized. Discuss the procedure in advance with your veterinarian so that you know what to expect.
  • Make arrangements for the prompt removal and disposal of the body. Keep in mind that viewing the removal of the body from the site can be emotionally distressing to you.
  • Check with your veterinarian and/or the city or county health departments about the laws prohibiting or restricting burial. Some have ordinances prohibiting or restricting burial.If this is the case then removal to a rendering facility or pet crematory may be required.
  • Explain to members of your family, especially children, in sensitive but honest terms why the decision to euthanize was made.It is generally not advisable to allow a child to be present during the euthanasia. The whole event can be very dramatic and shocking as the horse falls to the floor. This could be traumatic for a child to witness. Allow children if possible to say their goodbyes beforehand. (Please see Children and Pet Loss.)
  • Some find comfort in having a small physical memory of their horse. If possible, clip a small portion of your horse’s mane or tail to keep as a memory.

As a loving owner, you want your horse to have a peaceful, painless end. Usually the veterinarian will administer barbiturates in a dose sufficient to shut down the horse’s central nervous system. This in turn stops the heart and the breathing stops, it is quick and effective.

Some veterinarians use different methods of euthanasia. You would need to discuss this, in advance. Not all horses respond in exactly the same way. If you plan to be present when the euthanasia takes place, keep in mind that a horse may simply drop or could draw a deep breath, shudder, and paddle or show other signs before succumbing.

You will save your friend from a lot of pain and a personal sense of dysfunction — as well as failing to be able to live up to his/her horse-ness. But you will now be experiencing what we commonly refer to as euthanasia remorse. This is normal, and to be expected. Euthanasia is the ultimate act of love for our beloved pets. It is for them, not us, that we must do this. But we grieve for ourselves, too. And now we have to learn to somehow put this into some meaningful perspective.