How to Euthanize a Horse

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There are several different situations in which it is more humane to euthanize a horse than to force it to live in agony. A broken leg (particularly a broken lower leg), severe colic, extensive head trauma or seizures are all injuries for which a veterinarian will recommend euthanasia. If you don't think it is possible for the horse to live a healthy, comfortable life, putting him down might be the kindest thing you can do.

Things You'll Need

  • Barbituates
  • Syringe
  • Needle
  • Method of disposal

Before You Euthanize a Horse

Understand that your insurance policy might have special provisions concerning euthanasia. The insurance company might require that you inform them of the horse's condition and prognosis before you put him down, so make sure you read the terms of your equine insurance policy before calling the vet.

Allow time to say goodbye. This is especially true if the horse is ridden or enjoyed by children and teenagers, as they might need the closure offered by a moment alone with the horse.There are very few instances where a horse needs to be euthanized immediately, and this can help with the grieving process.

Evaluate your options. The most attractive option to euthanize a horse is via an intravenous barbiturate overdose. The veterinarian can administer this injection as soon as she arrives, and the barbituates relieve the horse's pain instantaneously, allowing a peaceful death. When this isn't possible, a veterinarian or owner can use a pistol as a last resort.

Understand that guns should not be taken lightly. Pistols are used only in circumstances where an injection isn't possible, such as when a veterinarian is not available or when the horse's condition won't allow the vet to find a vein. Furthermore, the person using the pistol should be familiar with its use and able to use it safely.

Know that a veterinarian can refuse to euthanize a horse. If he feels that the horse doesn't need to be put down, he can recommend saving the animal and refuse to take the horse's life. This is common in instances where an owner only wants to euthanize a horse because it isn't capable of being ridden anymore.

Euthanizing the Horse

Realize that you can euthanize a horse in a number of different situations. The most common places are in the horse's stall or paddock, but horses are sometimes put down during surgery when the surgeon realizes that she can't save the animal.

Administer the euthanasia into the horse's vein, preferably in the neck. The horse may shudder or lose control of its bladder or bowels, but pain will be relieved immediately. Death follows in one or two minutes.

Shoot the horse in the head if a pistol is your only option for euthanasia. It is important that a good marksman administer the gunshot wound, as a misplaced bullet can miss the brain and cause the horse additional pain and suffering. Use this option only if no others are available.

Determine what you will do with the body after you euthanize a horse. Some owners like to bury the horse, while others will have it cremated. Your veterinarian can help you make this decision.

Allow the veterinarian to perform a necropsy if one is required for insurance purposes. A necropsy is an animal autopsy, and can be performed at the barn or stable where the horse was euthanized. In some cases, pictures are required in addition to the veterinarian's statement--this helps guard against insurance fraud.

Tips & Warnings

  • Euthanize a horse in an area where the animal can easily be extracted. For example, it can be difficult to remove the body from a small stall.

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