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Equine euthanasia: understanding a difficult process reading-time-icon 2 min read

Euthanizing your horse can be a difficult and emotional decision.

It may take some time, but for elderly horses or horses suffering from prolonged illnesses, euthanasia is often the kindest option.

It allows them dignity in death, and brings peace of mind to owners.

When contemplating euthanasia, your vet will be able to offer advice on the best options for your horse. The decision is yours – providing your horse’s condition is not an emergency.

In emergencies, euthanasia may be a necessary course of action.

Methods of euthanasia

Injection:

Euthanasia by injection is the most peaceful option – and usually causes horses a minimal amount of stress.

The horse will be sedated before the lethal injection is administered. The procedure can take a few minutes, but the horse will remain asleep, at peace, and unaware of what’s happening.

For this method of euthanasia, the owner can be present if they want to be.

Shooting:

Euthanasia by shooting must be performed by a licensed professional – usually a vet or a fallen stock collection service.

This method is instantaneous and is often preferred when:

  • The horse is needle-phobic
  • The owner wishes for the body to be used by hunt kennels for meat
  • The horse has been unwell for a prolonged period

After the procedure

Once the procedure is over, there are 3 main options.

Cremation:

Cremation is the most common method of disposal. It can be arranged with a fallen stock collection service; most will offer an individual cremation so owners can keep their horse’s ashes in a casket/box or scatter them as they wish.

A standard cremation service will dispose of the body without returning any ashes to the owner.

Hunt Kennels or Local Zoo:

If the horse is shot, and not injected with a lethal injection, they can be used to feed hounds or zoo animals.

If this is your preferred option as an owner, it’s best to organise it before the euthanasia procedure takes place.

Burial:

Pet horses can be buried on private land, but this is not the case for horses owned by businesses (i.e. a riding school).

Horses should not be buried near water courses. Because of the legal restrictions surrounding burials, cremation has become a preferred option for owners.

Need more info?

For more help and advice on euthanasia, the processes surrounding it or any aspect of your horse’s health and wellbeing, have a chat with your local equine vet.

Find your nearest vet using our Find a Vet page, or speak to a vet online using Online Vets.