An Introduction to Euthanasia
We understand that euthanasia is a very emotive subject and we aim to provide a supportive and empathetic service for our clients and their horses under our care.
We advise that owners should aim to have a preferred plan in advance should an emergency situation arise. This will avoid the need to make rushed decisions in already difficult circumstances. It is beneficial to ensure that all those involved are advised in advance including your yard manager and also our team at Bell Equine.
Prior to any euthanasia, we will routinely:
- Check the horse’s passport and microchip to make a formal identification, your horse’s passport should be returned to the passport issuing organisation.
- Require a signed consent form from the owner or agent that we have your permission to proceed, in a dire emergency verbal permission may suffice.
If you have any questions please ask one of our veterinary team.
There are two methods of euthanasia commonly used:
A sedative is usually administered first then an intravenous catheter is often inserted, then the horse is given an overdose of anaesthetic-type drugs by intravenous injection. The horse loses consciousness and gently collapses with death occurring shortly afterwards. Reflex muscle twitches may follow after the horse has lost consciousness and our vet will guide you through this process at the time if you choose to be there. If this method of euthanasia is used then the options for disposal are limited as the body will have to be either buried or cremated.
This method of euthanasia results in instant death of the horse again a sedative is commonly given first. The muzzle of the gun is placed close to the horse’s forehead. It will fall down instantly with its legs extended and blood may drain from the nose. With this method there are sometimes involuntary movements of the horse’s legs and occasional gasps for a short period of time after the horse has died, which is normal. Not all vets carry a gun so this needs to be booked specifically with one of our vets who is licensed to carry and use a firearm.
The options for disposal of the carcass are limited and depend on the method of euthanasia and the health of the horse when it died.
Cremation is costly but available regardless of the method of euthanasia. The ashes may be returned in a special casket if requested, either as a small amount of token ashes or as a separate individual cremation. If your horse is cremated you can choose to pay for an individual cremation and have the ashes returned to you in a box for burial, usually a large wooden casket. It is important to think about what you will want to do with the ashes when they are returned to you. Many people who have paid for ashes to be returned subsequently choose never to collect them.
If you require a collection or cremation service, your requirements will need to be discussed with either ourselves or directly with the collection company, especially if you chose to have ashes back. There are various companies in the local area who can provide a collection and cremation service. Please contact them directly to discuss the services they can provide:
- Cherry Tree Crematorium: 01233 850929
- Mark Bycroft: 07768 277250
- W Martin & Son – Row Green Equine & Pet Crematorium: 01376 331136
- Offens Equine Casualty Services (Formerly Richard Powell Jones): 07977 914 505 / 07977 063 270
You would need to check with your local Trading Standards Office whether this is permitted. The European Union Regulations do not allow burial of pet horses as they consider the horse to be a food animal. At the time of writing, DEFRA does allow burial of pet horses at the discretion of the local authority, each case is considered on an individual basis.
Should I be there
This is a very personal choice and something to be discussed with the vet prior to the event if possible.
If you are able to be calm and relaxed during the procedure then your presence is likely to be reassuring for your horse. If you are distressed, then it may be better to ask a trusted friend to do this for you. We normally suggest owners are not present, unless specifically requested – it is far better to remember the good times.
Your vet will require you or someone on your behalf to sign a euthanasia consent form. In a yard of several horses, it is obviously essential someone is there who knows which horse is to be put to sleep.
Notification of your Insurance Company
If the horse is insured for loss of the animal and a claim is going to be made, the insurance company must be notified in advance. With the exception of an emergency situation the authorisation of the insurers is needed otherwise any claim may be invalidated.
If a horse is destroyed on humane grounds, it must meet certain criteria to satisfy the requirements of a mortality insurance policy. The British Equine Veterinary Association guidelines state that euthanasia should be carried out if ‘…the insured horse sustains an injury or manifests an illness or disease that is so severe as to warrant immediate destruction to relieve incurable and excessive pain and that no other options of treatment are available to that horse at that time’.
The insurers should be notified as soon as possible. They will require a veterinary certificate confirming the identity of the horse and the reason why it was destroyed and may also ask for a post mortem examination.
It is the horse owner’s responsibility to arrange for collection, cremation or disposal after euthanasia and to pay the company concerned direct. There are several companies in the local area that can provide various services (see previous section) and we can also provide details on request.
The cost of disposal varies depending on how the horse is euthanased, if cremation is required and if any ashes are requested. Individual requirements can be discussed at the time and an estimate of costs can be either given by us or the company you choose to use.
As well as collection and disposal costs, there is a fee charged for the actual euthanasia and visit (where required). Currently Bell Equine charges £110 (including VAT) for using a gun, plus sedation (usually £35-40 including VAT). Euthanasia by lethal injection costs £295.30 (including VAT and drug costs), for Thoroughbred sized horses (possibly more for a heavier horse) plus sedation (again usually £35-40 including VAT).
Another additional cost would potentially be for a post mortem which may be required by your insurance company (but rarely covered by insurance); the costs for this would vary depending on what is required. Occasionally we will ask you if we can perform a post mortem to help all of us to understand more about the diseases affecting the horses under our care; in such cases we would not charge. If you do not want a post mortem performed please tell us and we will respect your wishes.
- We will need to have definitive confirmation of any equine identity before we can put any horse to sleep. This should preferably be in the form of a passport which can then be checked against a microchip where possible.
- If your horse is insured, we strongly recommend you make contact with your insurance company beforehand where possible. Insurers may not accept a claim if you do not contact them prior to your horse being put to sleep. There is also the possibility that an insurance company may require a post mortem examination to be performed. It is understandable that in an emergency out of hours this may be difficult but some insurers have 24hour helplines, otherwise you must advise insurers at the earliest opportunity.
- There is an excellent British Horse Society initiative known as Equine Friends at the End, which can provide support, so no one faces this situation on their own. We at Bell Equine are also here to provide support and advice.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to ask; ring Bell Equine on 01622 813700 to speak to one of our team.
Further help & support
If you have any queries or concerns regarding any aspect of this topic, please do not hesitate to contact us, either on the main office number 01622 813700 or speak directly to the vet looking after your horse.
For more information, see the below societies who offer further advice, support and counselling schemes. We also have staff members trained to help in times of bereavement.