12 Equine Matters Spring 2019 Be prepared that you are likely to be asked to sign a consent form As a vet it often seems a very insensitive thing for us to have to ask, but legally we need to obtain permission. In some cases, verbal permission may be sufficient. If it is an elective euthanasia, it is worth asking the practice to send this out in advance so it is one less thing to think about on the day. Knowing what actually happens Whether euthanasia is elective or in an emergency your vet will normally follow a set routine. Nowadays the most common method of euthanasia is by injection. The most commonly used drug is called ‘Somulose’. Your vet will most likely place a catheter in the jugular vein and then sedate your horse heavily to ensure they are relaxed. At this point your horse will appear very sleepy. The catheter then allows safe and easy administration of Somulose over 10-15 seconds. Once the injection has been given, your vet will take your horse from you and apply gentle pressure to their shoulder to help the horse to the ground where possible. After a couple of seconds, breathing will stop and their eyes will remain open. Following this your vet will listen to the horse’s chest with a stethoscope for a few minutes to ensure that the heart has stopped. The above is the perfect example of what should happen. In reality it doesn’t always look just as smooth. Older horses often struggle to bend their knees and hocks and often appear to just ‘tumble’ over. Some horses with neurological or spinal problems will often wobble and appear very unstable before going down. Even the most straightforward euthanasia can have problems. Try to remain calm. Your vet will know what they are doing and deal with the situation appropriately. It’s often good to remember that the horse beginning to go down is a result of it losing consciousness and so it will not be aware of what is going on. Other things to watch out for are involuntary movement of muscles after euthanasia. The body releases the cells’ energy which can cause muscles to jolt and spasm involuntarily for a few minutes after death. This happens quite regularly so be careful to stay out of the way of the horse’s legs; staying close to the head is usually best. Horses may appear to gasp and take big breaths (agonal gasping), this is actually gas being released due to changes in pressure in the chest and not actually a true breath. As most vets do not carry a gun, euthanasia of this type is usually carried out by a huntsman or slaughter-man. When performed properly it is a very quick and pain free death. It is worth having a chat with your vet as to who they would recommend and to provide you with contact details. In some situations, such as a horse with a severe needle phobia, it may actually be a much less stressful option in an elective euthanasia. The DEFRA website provides some guidance on the safe and legal disposal of fallen animals. Euthanasia is never going to be an easy experience but with a little knowledge of what to expect it can make things just a little easier.