Horses are often beloved members of our family and it can be heartbreaking to see them unwell. Unfortunately, there are some illnesses that horses are unable to recover from. In the case of terminal illness and/or debilitating pain or suffering, one of the kindest things that we can do for them is to relieve them of that burden by making the difficult decision to put them to sleep.
How do I know if it is the right time to consider euthanasia?
Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you when it is time to consider euthanizing your horse. However, there are also some signs and symptoms that your horse is no longer experiencing good quality of life, and if you notice these, then it would be advisable to contact your veterinarian to determine if euthanasia would be the most humane course of action. These signs include:
- Chronic pain that cannot be controlled by medication
- Inability to stand or move around easily
- Disinterest in food
- Chronically depressed attitude
Many veterinarians will allow you to be present during the euthanasia procedure so that you can comfort your animal as they enter their final journey. This is a personal decision, but it is recommended that young children are not present during this time.
What happens during the euthanasia procedure?
Understanding what happens during a euthanasia procedure before the event can be beneficial. Not only will you understand the medical process, but you can be comforted by the knowledge that your animal will be put to sleep in a completely painless and peaceful way. Your veterinarian will explain the procedure to you fully, but if you require further clarification of any elements of the process then we will be happy to provide this.
Most often, a intraveneous sedative is given to relax the horse. Then, an overdose of an anesthetic (barbituate) medication is given intraveneously. As horses are usually standing at the time of euthanasia, they will become unconscious and fall to the ground. This can be difficult for some owners to be present for.
Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to confirm that the heart has stopped beating. For a few minutes after the process you may witness involuntary muscle twitching and breathing from your horse. The bladder and bowels may also release. These are perfectly normal occurrences and no cause for concern. You are then usually given the option to spend a few minutes alone with your horse.
Ahead of the euthanasia process you will be asked whether you would prefer for your pet to be picked up and disposed of or cremated. Pick up is most the most common choice, as cremation of horses can be very expensive.
Alternatively you may wish to bury your horse. If you want to bury your animal at home you should check any local ordinances for restrictions. The animal must be buried in a timely manner and all other animals must be kept away from the deceased horse.