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Equine Euthanasia
 By Winniefield Park   •   30th Jun 2018   •   1,025 views   •   0 comments


This is a topic that is difficult to discuss. But, itís something that horse owners should educate themselves about. When we take on the responsibility for any animalís life, in my opinion anyway, we also must accept the responsibility for its death and make that death as stress and pain free for the animal as possible.

Distressingly for us, horses donít all die of old age. By that I mean they donít always die by drifting off in their sleep and trotting over the rainbow bridge. Senior horses can suffer aches, pains and illness that may not outright kill them, but makes their lives a misery. So, to avoid a natural death that may mean prolonged suffering, a horse owner will choose to have their horseís euthanized.

The leading cause of horse death is colic - but horses donít die of colic. A severe colic can mean if you donít want their end to be horrifically violent and painful we must choose euthanasia. Other chronic conditions such as laminitis or severe arthritis can mean that the kindest thing we can do for our horses is give them a calm, pain-free exit. So we choose euthanasia. And, sometimes horses can critically injure themselves. Accidents can cause broken legs, necks, spines or other severe trauma that canít be healed and would kill a horse over hours, weeks or days, but humane euthanasia ends suffering.

There are four different methods of euthanasia. The choice of which method will be used will depend on the circumstance. The priority is the safety of the human handlers and the efficiency of the method. The most common is the use of a drug solution containing a killing dose of a barbiturate anesthetic. Most vets will first administer a sedative that will relax the horse. Then, via intravenous injection, a deadly dose of drugs is injected. This shuts down the central nervous system. The respiratory system shuts down, and brain activity ceases. The down sides of barbiturate doses can include thrashing or sudden falling if not administered properly. The sedative helps prevent this. Another downside is that after the horse is dead, disposal is more difficult because of the drugs used. Drugs can leach into the environment. But this tends to be the most stress free and safe option for horse and owner.

Captive bolt guns are something that most of us associate with the cattle slaughter industry. A captive bolt gun or pistol looks like something that might be hanging up in someone's well equipped tool shed. The type used for large livestock for euthanasia has a metal projectile propelled with air or a chemical explosion that as it penetrates, damages brain tissue. Although itís called a captive bolt gun, the projectile in this specific type might not be reusable. The action of a bolt gun is quick although the horse may appear to scramble for some time afterward. The wound made by the gun may bleed. The horse must be well restrained for the aim of the gun to be accurate.

A gun of the right calibre does much the same as the bolt gun. Grandpaís .22 is probably not adequate, especially if the right target isnít hit precisely. If you are ever backcountry packing, and worry that there may a situation where you have to euthanize a horse, youíll want to do some research about what you should be taking along how to safely and efficiently go about it. There are lots of stories about poorly aimed guns and horses suffering needlessly.

Exsanguination is the most messy and least efficient method of euthanasia. Only in extreme situations should this be used. But if a horse is injured in a place where a gun can not be safely fired, drugs and vet not available, this may be the only logical choice. Bleeding a horse out involves cutting the carotid artery and jugular vein behind the jaw, from one side to the other. It requires a very sharp knife and steady hand.

Nobody wants to euthanize a horse, especially in an emergency situation. But, like all emergencies, itís best to be prepared.
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