Euthanasia is a difficult subject to consider, but our aim is to provide a humane and painless death for your horse. Having any animal put down 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 euthanased 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. If two horses are particularly closely bonded, it may be necessary to sedate the companion
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. Some vets also choose to place a catheter into the vein to ensure all the drug is administered smoothly. The horse loses consciousness after the injection and slowly collapses. His/her heart will then stop shortly after they are anaesthetised resulting in death.
The horse is fully unconscious when he/she falls to the ground and is therefore unaware of their heart stopping. Occasionally horses can twitch or appear to gasp once they have been euthanased. 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 and so this needs to be booked specifically. Whilst it may appear less peaceful to the owner it is sometimes a better and more dignified end for a horse (especially one that is very needle shy )
How to dispose of the carcass?
The options for disposal of the carcass are limited and depend on the method of euthanasia and the health of the horse when it died.
Cherry Tree Pet Crematorium is the company most commonly used by Milbourn Equine to provide a collection and cremation service. Cremation is costly but available regardless of the method of euthanasia/death. The ashes may be returned in a special casket if requested, either as a small amount of token ashes or as a separate individual cremation where the ashes of your horse will be returned to you in a large wooden casket for burial. It is important to think about what you will want to do with the ashes when they are returned to you as many people who have paid for ashes to be returned subsequently choose never to collect them.
Hunt kennels/disposal to the zoo
Provided the horse was not put down by lethal injection or was not suffering from a disease making it unsuitable for animal consumption, many hunts will use the carcass as food for the hounds or alternatively some equine carcasses may be taken to the zoo. Some local hunts also provide euthanasia by bullet and a sympathetic disposal service, in some cases this is a cheaper option worth considering.
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. Milbourn 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 and find observing the procedure distressing.
If you are able to be calm and relaxed during the procedure, then your presence is likely to be reassuring for your horse. If you are visibly distressed however, then 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 obviously essential someone is there who knows which horse is to be put down.
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 the horse is destroyed on humane grounds, it 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 destroyed. They may also ask for a post mortem.
We will charge for our visit, euthanasia procedure and the drugs we use.
It is the horse owner’s responsibility to arrange for collection, cremation or disposal and to pay the company concerned. We routinely use and recommend Mr David Funnell, Cherry Tree Pet Crematorium, High Halden, Kent. (Tel 01233 850929).www.petcrem.com
All fees incurred in relation to disposal are payable direct to the organisation performing this at the time of collection.
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 unexpectantly. In some situations Insurance companies may insist on a post mortem before a mortality claim is paid out.
If you have any questions or require further advice please do not hesitate to speak to one of our vets when they next visit you or contact your local branch and our reception team will happily guide you through the process.
Hawkhurst - 01580 752301
Rye - 01797 222254
Ashford - 01233 500505
If you are currently struggling with a recent bereavement, then the pet bereavement service is available for help, support and guidance and is a free service to all: 0800 096 6606.
The death of a horse or pony is not a subject most people like to think about. However, it is important to consider what you will do and plan ahead so you are able to cope with any eventuality. We urge you to remember that the horse depends on you to make rational, informed decisions, often in difficult circumstances and you must ensure that the horse’s welfare is always put first. The below flowchart is a useful tool to help you make these difficult decisions.
Note: Any horse's that are put to sleep with lethal injection must be cremated, (to avoid returning to the food chain)