E. Meeker, D.V.M
Shawn L. Williamson, D.V.M
REPRODUCTION : EQUINE MEDICAL TREATMENT : EQUINE SURGERY
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The Most Difficult Decision
things in life are as difficult to accept as death. Death becomes even more painful
when you must decide whether to end a beloved animal's life. However, there may
come a time when, for humane, medical, economic, or safety reasons, you may need
to consider euthanasia for your horse.
decision to euthanize, or induce a painless death, should never be made without
careful consideration. The right choice is clearly the one that is in the best
interest of the horse and the humans who care for it.
There are a wide range
of circumstances under which euthanasia may be considered. Among some of the
most common are:
case is unique. Even in similar situations, the decision to euthanize an animal
is highly individual. For example, in the case of a severe traumatic injury,
such as a broken leg, the animal's psychological makeup can influence the outcome.
Some horses may respond better to treatment than others, some have a stronger
will to live than others, some are more cooperative than
others, and some have a higher pain tolerance than others.
- Incurable, transmissible
- Chronic lameness
- Inoperable colic
- Foals born with
- Debilitation in
- Severe traumatic
- Dangerous behavioral
- Undue financial
burden of caring for a sick or incapacitated horse
- Undue suffering
for any reason
is a highly emotional issue. Yet it is important to address the situation from
a practical standpoint as well. Whether you are dealing with an emergency or
a long-term illness, discuss the following questions with your veterinarian to
help you decide what is right for you and your horse:
is the likelihood of recovery or at least an acceptable return to usefulness?
- Is the horse suffering?
- Has the horse
become depressed or despondent, or does it continue to show an interest and desire
- How much discomfort
or distress can you accept seeing your own animal endure?
- What kind of special
care will this animal require, and can you meet its needs?
- Can you continue
to provide for this animal economically?
- What are the alternatives?
As the horse's owner,
you ultimately have the responsibility of determining the horse's fate. Your
veterinarian can provide you with medical information and help you fully understand
the horse's prognosis. Your equine practitioner can also explain the options,
and offer comfort and support. But the veterinarian cannot decide for you whether
or not to euthanize your horse. If you are in doubt about the prognosis or your
options, it is important to get a second opinion.Equine
practitioners are frequently asked, "What would you do if..." The question,
your veterinarian in a difficult position. No matter how compassionate and caring,
that individual is not attached to the animal as you are, nor will your veterinarian
assume the emotional or economic burden of caring for it. Therefore, you must
come to a decision that is right for you.
in extreme emergencies does a veterinarian act on an animal's behalf without
an owner's consent. An example of such a situation might be a horse that gets
loose on a roadway and is struck by a car. A veterinarian may notify the local
humane society and choose to euthanize a severely injured horse to end its suffering.
But such cases are rare.Remember,
too, that a veterinarian must follow his or her conscience. A veterinarian may
refuse to euthanize an animal if euthanasia seems unnecessary or unjustified.
Or the veterinarian may choose to discontinue treating the animal if an owner
is inhumanely allowing an animal to suffer or is unduly prolonging its death.
PLANNING & PREPARATION
If you and your veterinarian
agree that euthanasia is the best choice, it is important to prepare as best
you can. If you are able to make the decision in advance rather than under emergency
conditions, making prior arrangements will ease the process. These guidelines
when and where are most comfortable and practical for you, the veterinarian,
and the horse. Keep in mind that removal of the body
from the site should be as safe and easy as possible.
- If you board your
horse, inform the stable manager of the impending situation.
- Decide whether
you wish to be present during the procedure. Only you know what is right for
you. You may wish to ask someone to observe in your absence.
- Be aware that,
for safety reasons, your veterinarian will probably not allow you to be touching
or holding the animal when it is put down.
- Discuss the procedure
in advance so you know what to expect.
- Make arrangements
for the prompt removal and disposal of the body. Check with your veterinarian
and/or the city or county health departments. Many municipalities have ordinances
prohibiting or restricting burial. Removal to a rendering facility or pet crematory
may be required.
- Explain to members
of your family, especially children, in sensitive but honest terms, why the decision
was made to euthanize the horse.
- Allow yourself
to grieve. Finding a support person or group to talk to can help you work through
this difficult period.
- If the horse is
insured, notify the insurance company in advance of the euthanasia so that there
are no problems with claims. While the veterinarian will provide you with the
required documentation, the notification, filing, and follow-up are your responsibilities.
a caring owner, you want your horse to have a peaceful, painless end. Most commonly,
the veterinarian will administer barbiturates (sedatives) in a dose sufficient
to shut down the horse's central nervous system. The drugs will stop the heart,
and the animal will quit breathing. The drugs act quickly and effectively. However,
not all horses respond in exactly the same way. If you plan to be present when
the lethal injection is given, keep in mind that the horse may simply drop, or
could draw a deep breath, shudder, paddle, or show other signs of distress before
Given the affection
we have for horses, dealing with their deaths can be extremely difficult. But
death is a part of life, and finding the resources to cope with your emotions
To help you deal with your own grief, there are local and national counseling
organizations, including the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary
Medicine's Pet Loss Support Hotline,
1-800-565-1526. Your veterinarian may also
know of area resources that can help you, so don't be afraid to ask.
If your horse is insured,
become familiar with the regulations concerning your policy - even the fine
print - before you act. Most insurance carriers require that they be kept
fully informed from the beginning about a horse's medical condition, especially
if death or euthanasia is a potential outcome. Even in an emergency, a reasonable
attempt should be made to notify the insurance company. This notification is
the owner's responsibility, not the veterinarian's. If the animal can be stabilized,
many policies require a second opinion before a horse is euthanized. However,
under extreme circumstances, it is always up to the discretion of the owner and
veterinarian to act in the best interest of the horse. By being aware of your
policy's guidelines, you can minimize any unpleasant surprises which relate to
The American Association
of Equine Practitioners has developed euthanasia guidelines to help your veterinarian
assist you during this very difficult time. The AAEP's standards apply to all
horses, regardless of their monetary worth, and are designed "to avoid and terminate incurable
and excessive suffering." Included in the guidelines are the following test statements:
the condition chronic or incurable?
- Does the immediate
condition suggest a hopeless prognosis for life?
- Is the horse a
hazard to himself or his handlers?
- Will the horse
require continuous medication for the relief of pain for the remainder of its
horse, like all living creatures, is not going to live forever. If your horse
remains healthy and happy into old age and dies a peaceful, natural death, you
are fortunate. However, by thinking about what you would do in an emergency,
or how you would act if your horse's life became painful and unbearable to watch,
you can be prepared for whatever happens. And by sharing this plan with others,
especially those who care for your horse in your absence, you assume the ultimate
responsibility of ownership by easing the decision-making process for everyone.
Finally, you show the ultimate respect for your horse by relieving it of unendurable
pain or disease.
| This brochure
was developed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners through a grant
from Bayer Corporation, Animal Health. Bayer
Corporation, Agriculture Division, Agriculture Division Animal Health,
Shawnee Mission, Kansas 66201