AUTUMN/WINTER 2016 ISSUE
When is the right time?
Knowing the right time to put your horse to
sleep can be a very tricky question to answer.
It depends on both the individual circumstances
and personal opinion
Ultimately it should come
down to quality of life, and that should be a
reflection of clinical disease and pain levels.
As vets we try to impartially assess the horse’s
ability to conduct normal behaviours, e.g.
getting up, lying down, eating and the ability to
move around freely without pain. Furthermore, if
the line is becoming blurry, ask yourself if they
are having more bad days than good days
There is a saying amongst vets that is very true:
‘better a week too early, than an hour too late’.
The biggest regret we see in owners is wishing
they had made the decision sooner, not the
other way around
What are the options
for euthanasia and
what is the process?
You can choose to say goodbye in two ways,
either by shooting or euthanasia by injection.
This decision comes down to personal
preference and animal suitability. Shooting is
very quick and straightforward, the limbs
contract and consciousness is lost immediately.
There is a bang and there will be a small
entry hole in the forehead area just below the
forelock, from which there may be some
bleeding. Involuntary reflexes may occur.
Some owners choose to have their horses
sedated by the vet first, many just feed them
a nice bucket of treats.
The injection is a drug that has two
components: an anaesthetic agent that leads
to loss of consciousness, so the horse falls
asleep, and a drug that stops the heart once
consciousness is lost. Many vets will sedate
the horse first and place a catheter into the
vein in the neck to ensure giving the injection
is straightforward. It takes a minute or two,
then the horse usually starts to breathe a little
heavier and gently goes to the ground. Rest
assured the moment they start to become
unsteady, they are losing consciousness and
are not aware of anything around them.
Once they are on the floor, there may be
some involuntary reflexes. The vet will check
the heart to ensure the horse has passed
away, it may take a few minutes for the heart
to completely stop.
Figure two. As loving animal owners, we
have to take responsibility
With permission, you may be able to
bury your horse on your own land. If this
is not suitable, your vet can organise a
transporter to remove the body to be
taken to a pet crematorium. Cremation is
the most common option for owners.
Most crematoria will perform individual
cremations and offer a casket of ashes for
scattering or burial. Finally, some owners
prefer to use their local hunt if they have
an established relationship and they will
also take care of the remains for you.
The grief of losing a horse can be as
pronounced as losing a friend or family
member, as often the attachment and
bond is very deep
important to never put a timescale on
mourning, as everyone is different and
the grieving process different for
individuals. In recognition of how difficult
this time can be, there are an ever
increasing number of resources for
owners. XLVet Equine practices offer a
very valuable Equine Skills workshop
dedicated to this topic - ‘Old Friends
and Saying Goodbye’; specialist animal
bereavement counsellors are available if
you need someone to talk with, and both
The Blue Cross website or The Ralph Site
have more information.
What happens afterwards?
Figure four. Grieving takes time and should
not be rushed
Figure three. Reassuringly, owners almost
always know exactly when the time is right
for them and their horse