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Euthanasia And Equine Bereavement

Euthanasia And Equine Bereavement

Euthanasia and Equine Bereavement

Euthanasia is a difficult topic for both horse owners and vets, and with all of our staff owning horses and other pets we know that this is not an easy decision to make. However we aim to provide a caring service to carry out a humane and painless final end for  your horse

We always allow an extended appointment where possible for the procedure, as we understand that this can be a distressing time  for clients. Where possible we like to plan ahead, to ensure that everything goes smoothly at the time.

Making the decision

There are generally two scenarios that occur with euthanasia, euthanasia in an emergency or euthanasia as  an elective decision based on a longer term condition of your horse.

In an emergency it is a decision that is often made based on the presenting condition, where our veterinary surgeons will recommend euthanasia based on the  welfare of the animal and the prognosis. Often at the time it is clear to see that this is the right decision and although it is  just as upsetting, it is far more straightforward to see what is right to do.

Chronic and longer term cases, or elderly horses are always a slightly tougher decision for clients. It is hard to know exactly when the time should be, but we are here to help make that decision easier where we can. Our vets will advise you on an appropriate plan of action, to ensure the primary concern remains the horses quality of life

Where should a euthanasia take place

Sometimes, the location may be out of our hands – this is mainly in an emergency situation where on welfare grounds it is not possible to move the horse to another location.

However, most of the time we are able to plan the euthanasia to enable the least stress possible for both the horse and client.

We recommend where possible horses should be euthanised at a place where there are most used to – for example at their own yard and ideally a flat area of easily accessible grass. This means that the horse is relaxed and used to the surroundings.

If a horse has a long term companion, it may be necessary to give a small amount of sedation to the companion to reduce stress at the time

It has been shown that some horses may deal with the bereavement of a companion better if they are able to see the horse after the euthanasia  has taken place.

Methods of euthanasia

There are two options available for equine clients, these are lethal injection and euthanasia by gun..

Lethal injection is now the most common method of equine euthanasia.

Firstly the horse may be sedated, and then the veterinary surgeon will place an intravenous catheter into the vein. This ensures that the delivery of the drug is smooth and accurate. Once the catheter is in place, the horse will then be injected by what is basically an overdose of an anaesthetic type drug. The horse will slowly collapse in a controlled manner, guided by the veterinary surgeon. The overdose of the drug will cause the heart to stop which will result in death. The horse will already be fully unconscious before it hits the ground and will not feel the impact. It is not unusual to observe some twitching and gasping movements after the horse has collapsed. The reason for this, is that the muscles are relaxing  – the horse is unaware of this, but it may look a little distressing for owners. This is the bodies natural response, and is not a sign that the horse is in discomfort or stress.

Shooting, is another method of euthanasia but one less frequently used these days. In order to perform this procedure, vets are required to obtain a gun licence – something which not all vets are happy to do. Therefore if this is the option you require, it is advisable to let us know this at the time of arranging  so that this can be arranged with an appropriate vet.

The horse again may be sedated first before the shot is fired into the horses forehead. When the horse hits the ground there may be more involuntary movements shown by the horse – which again the horse will not be aware of. Often euthanasia by this method results in a small bleed from the head where the bullet entered – this can often be upsetting for people to see, so we advise having something available to cover the horse over until he or she can be removed.

What happens to my horse after euthanasia?

There are several options for disposal of the horse once euthanasia  has been carried out, the options available depend largely on the method of euthanasia and owners wishes.

The first option is cremation – this can be a general cremation or a private cremation where the ashes are returned to the owner. This must be done at a reputable equine crematorium, which we can help arrange for you.

If you opt for keeping your horses ashes, here you will receive the ashes of your horse in a small casket for you to keep. This, some owners find comforting as they can perhaps bury or scatter the ashes in a place that was particularly loved by the horse – such as in its pasture, or on a favourite hack.

Other ways to keep a memory of your horse, include taking a small piece of your horse’s mane or tail. There are companies now which can make lovely bracelets from horse hair for you to have. Another idea, is to keep the shoes of your horse. Our vets will always be happy to either taking a clipping of hair or remove the shoes once the euthanasia  has been carried out.

General Cremation, is where your horse will be disposed of along with other horses but you will not receive the ashes – this is a more common choice for most owners.

Horses that have been euthanised by bullet, can be collected by the  hunt and disposed of at the kennels – but this is only possible if the horse has not recently received medication or had an illness

Another option is to bury your horse. This is possible, but we advise owners that this must be on their own land and they must speak to the relevant authorities about the location prior to doing so. The horse must be buried sufficiently deep and away from a water course and therefore this is only possible if the client has access to machinery to do this.

Further information

If you would like more help and advise on this topic, our staff are fully trained to help assist in the process and also to help deal with equine bereavement. Our vets are always available to discuss the process and advise on each animal and the decision.

If you do not wish to be present during the euthanasia, our equine nurse is  available to assist our veterinary surgeons at no additional cost to yourself.


You can also visit the following websites which can offer you more advise and help on making the decision




There are also the following helplines where you can talk to an advisor about equine euthanasia and equine bereavement:

BHS -The Friends at the end scheme: 02476840517 or email friendsattheend@bhs.org.uk

Blue Cross Bereavement Services: 08000966606 or email pbssmail@bluecross.org.uk

Help Pack

You can also collect a ‘Just in case:Owner Plan’’ Pack from our reception which can help you when making the difficult decision or just to plan in case the time comes in the future