The Process of Euthanasia for Horses

Emily: What is the general procedure when you have to euthanase a horse?

Dave: Well, firstly we give a pre-med anaesthetic (sedative) to the horse, as you would have yourself if you were going for an operation. This first injection relaxes the horse and sometimes they lay down. We then give a lethal overdose of anaesthetic. The horse further relaxes, taking a couple of deep breathes. If he is still standing he may stagger a little before lying down. It usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes for the heart to stop. This period is of course pain-free as would be the case if the horse was under anaesthetic for an operation.

Emily: Why do you give two injections?

David: Well we give the initial pre-med anaesthetic to relax the animal and make the secondary overdose of anaesthetic have a smoother and painless onset.

Emily: Do you stay until the horse has definitely passed away?

David: Of course. I stay until the horse’s heart has completely stopped and has remained like that for a few minutes.

Emily: When should an owner be considering euthanasia as an option?

David: Well, there are many circumstances which may lead to euthanasia being one option. An emergency euthanasia is when a horse needs to be euthanased immediately for humane reasons. An elective euthanasia is when the owner decides to euthanase the horse for other reasons, such as financial ones, change of circumstances, the horse has a decreased quality of life due to age or injury, or a number of other reasons. The choice to an elective euthanasia is solely the owner’s, though in some instances they may choose to make the decision in consultation with their vet. Owners should feel that they can ring and make this appointment without feeling judged for the circumstances which have led to this difficult decision. The owner’s circumstances are often varied so consequently I always respect the owner’s final decision.

Emily: And it doesn’t get any easier, does it?

David: No, it doesn’t get any easier even after 30 years. I try and console myself with the thought that every horse must leave this world at some time, just as every person has to. At least we can make a choice for them when death is a kinder option.