Euthanasia is defined as “the intentional causing of a painless and easy death to a patient suffering from an incurable or painful disease”

Having the enjoyment and pleasure of keeping horses brings along the responsibility of not only ensuring quality of life but the responsibility of a humane death as well.

When to end an animal’s life is one of the most difficult decisions an owner may have to make. It is also one of the most demanding tasks a veterinary surgeon is asked to carry out. The decision for euthanasia may have to be made in certain emergency situations or in order to prevent unnecessary suffering from long term chronic illness. No matter what the circumstances, the horse’s best interests should be maintained.

The decision for euthanasia

The circumstances in which euthanasia is required vary widely from elective euthanasia of a much-loved old pet to the emergency destruction of an injured high performance horse at a major public event. The decision for euthanasia can never be taken lightly and the reasons will depend on the situation.

Prerequisites for Euthanasia

Wherever practical, a signed consent form will be required from either the owner or a responsible agent.

The relevant insurance company should be contacted if appropriate. Elective euthanasia has different implications to emergency humane destruction and all interested parties must be informed and involved.

All arrangements for disposal of the horse must be made beforehand. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to help with this.


For non emergency situations, planning is essential. When practical, choose a location where the horse can be easily reached by removal equipment. The area needs to be a safe, quiet environment. Remember that it is important not to cause any further pain or unnecessary suffering during the handling process. When choosing a location, you also have to consider the method in which euthanasia is to be performed. If the horse is to be put to sleep by gunshot, all possible precautions must be taken to ensure that human lives are never at risk. Particular care must be taken to clear the area behind the horse.

Immediately following euthanasia, the horse may infrequently experience a period of muscle activity. Remember that, whatever the extent of this activity, by this point in time the horse will be unconscious and insensible to pain. This will be followed by a period of relaxation with possible poorly coordinated limb movements. Your vet will determine when death has occurred.

Do discuss with your veterinary surgeon what to expect. Your veterinary surgeon will have your best safety interests in mind when carrying out the procedure and may not be happy for you to be holding your horse, even if you want to. Remember that euthanased horses have been known to have muscle contractions many minutes after death is deemed to have occurred. Do not put yourself in a position where you may be kicked. Always approach an animal that has been euthanased from a position away from the limbs.