Horse owners know that when a horse comes into your life, you are changed forever. They become trusty companions to us, often being referred to as “our children.” They each hold a special place in our heart. While we enjoy taking care of and spending time with our horses, we must always be prepared for what may need to be done when the time comes. No matter how difficult it may be to think about, there may come a time when you need to consider euthanasia for your horse. Maybe he is getting older and isn’t able to keep weight on like he used to or maybe he remains too lame to have a good quality of life and comfortably walk around his pasture.

Choosing whether to end a beloved animal’s life may be the hardest decision you ever have to make, but it may be one of the most responsible and compassionate things you can do for your horse. The decision to euthanize, or induce a painless death, should never be made without careful consideration. The right choice is the one that is in the best interest of the horse.

Getting Things in Order

If you and your veterinarian come to an agreement that euthanasia is the best choice for your horse, it is important to prepare the best you can. If you are able to make the decision in advance rather than in an emergency situation, making prior arrangements will make the process easier. The following guidelines may help:

– Decide when and where the procedure will be carried out, keeping in mind that arrangements must be made for removal of the body (if you are not burying on your property). Choose what is most comfortable and practical for you, your veterinarian, and your horse.

– If you board your horse, let the stable manager know about the situation.

– Decide whether or not you want to be there for the procedure. If you cannot or do not wish to be present, you may want to ask a close friend to stand in for you. Decide what is right for you. (If you are unfamiliar with the procedure and are unsure what to expect, discuss it with your veterinarian beforehand.)

– Be aware that, for safety reasons, your veterinarian may not allow you to be touching or holding the horse during the procedure. You will, however, be able to touch and be with your horse afterward.

– Make arrangements in advance for the removal and disposal of the body.

– If the horse is insured, notify the insurance company in advance so that there are no problems with claims. While the veterinarian will provide you with any required documentation, the rest (notification, filing, follow-up, etc.) is your responsibility.

Understanding Euthanasia

As a loving and caring horse owner, you want your horse to have a peaceful and painless transition from life to death. Euthanasia is most often achieved by injecting a barbiturate anesthetic in a dose sufficient to shut down the horse’s central nervous system. The drug makes the horse unconscious, his heart stops, and he quits breathing. These drugs act very quickly and effectively.

If you don’t think you will be able to participate or attend the appointment, the veterinarian can bring a helper to assist. If you do plan to be present when the injection is given, keep in mind that not all horses will respond in exactly the same way.

Most horses simply fall over and lay still, maybe taking one or two deep breaths before passing away. Some horses continue to take occasional breaths for a minute or so, and there may also be some movement of the limbs, even though the horse is deeply unconscious and no longer has a heartbeat. Seeing these apparent signs of life can be upsetting for some owners, but remember that they do not indicate that the horse is conscious or has any sense of feeling; they are simply involuntary reflexes by the body in its final moments.

After The Procedure

Though it is difficult to think about in the moment, the time will come when it is important to decide what to do with your horse’s remains. Luckily, there are several options to consider:

– Cremation is a great choice for those that cannot bury their horse on their property. The ashes are able to be scattered or can be stored in an urn.

– Interment is another option. Depending on where you live you may have the option of having services come pick up and remove the body of your horse.

– Home Burial – Check with your county’s Department of Agriculture to see if this option is available where you live. If home burial is an option based on where you live, you can call any heavy equipment business (septic, drilling) to help you prepare a grave.

– Your vet will able to help you with contact information for the decision that is the best for you when the time comes.

Remembering Your Horse

After the loss of a special horse, many options allow you to symbolize your love and special bond with them.

– Some cremation businesses offer the option of having keepsakes made from your horse’s ashes.

– Beautiful horsehair bracelets and necklaces can be made from hair belonging to your horse.

– Have a local artist whose style you enjoy do a portrait of your horse using photographs of him in his prime.

– Many horse rescues and sanctuaries will allow you to make a donation in your horse’s name after he has passed.

When the Time Comes

When you have decided that it is time to euthanize your horse, make sure to give your vet a call. They can let you know about burial options in your area and help you set up any removal services you may need help with. Carolina Equine Hospital is open for regular appointments from 8-5, Monday-Friday and our expert team of equine veterinarians are available 24/7 for emergency services.


Photo credit to Taryn Spore Photography*