The Difficult Decision to Euthanize your Horse

Having a horse put down is a devastating experience, and when that time comes, it is heartbreaking. Euthanasia and whether it is the right decision is a great responsibility for the owner. It is certainly not one that can be taken lightly. Whilst it is the owner’s responsibility, it doesn’t harm to seek advice from someone else. It could be a vet or a friend, someone who can remain impartial. It is easy to allow emotion to cloud judgement.

Euthanasia may be required when a horse reaches old age. Old age in itself isn’t an indicator to have the horse put down, but obviously the health of the horse may deteriorate. An old horse could suffer from arthritis, or another usually age related condition. The horse may have been part of their owner’s life for years and it can be very difficult for the owner to let go. Whilst the owner needs time to adjust to a decision, and will need to plan things, the decision of when this should happen, should be made for the horse’s good and not the owners.

A horse that has served us for years, should be treated with respect and dignity. The owner may feel that they owe it to the horse to offer it a home for life. This is great. For a horse who is retired, they should be allowed to live their last days in green fields with a stable at night when required. They should have company and be able to enjoy their retirement. The horse should still be tended to. It’s hooves will still need attention, it will need the dentist, it will need to be wormed and fed and groomed. It still needs care. This is an idyllic way for a horse to live out it’s last years. If the horse is happy, and able to enjoy it’s retirement, there is no reason to consider euthanasia.

The reason why the horse has been retired, must be considered though. If the horse is lame, the question needs to be asked, is it in pain and is it likely to get better? This also applies to younger horses who are retired because of physical issues. This is when veterinary advice can be invaluable. The horse may benefit from having a long period of time off and may become sound again. It could be that there is no chance of improvement. In this instance, if the horse is in pain and not experiencing quality of life, it may be time to let it go and consider euthanasia.

Lame horses can enjoy quality of life, as long as the lameness is not too severe and they are able to move around and eat and play. There is nothing worse than seeing a horse in the field, crippled with arthritis. There is a fine line between keeping a lame loyal and faithful companion, and one who struggles more each day with simple things like getting up and grazing. An owner’s guilt may play a part in not having a horse put down. There are cases when owners do not make the decision early enough. It is not fair to keep a horse like this. It is not always the owner’s fault though as they may not be able to see it. This is where friends may need to step in and ask the owner if they think the horse is happy.

Retirement, either in old age or earlier, is only good for a horse if it is still cared for. An owner may think that they are looking after a horse by keeping it in a field, but it still needs to be looked after. It will need to be checked twice a day like any other horse. It will still need to be fed, at least in winter. It’s hooves will need attention. It will need to be wormed. An elderly horse may be more likely to lose weight. This is why it is still important to have it’s teeth checked. It may also need a feed along the lines of 16 plus. A retired horse must not be left to fend for itself. If a horse is not being looked after, then euthansia may be the kindest option for the horse.

Euthanasia is more straightforward in some cases.  In situations where the horse is in extreme pain, and is unlikely to get better, then euthansia seems the likely choice.  This could be when a horse has broken it’s leg in an accident.  It could be in an acute case of colic.  Euthanasia would be the first line choice in cases like these when the horse is in serious pain. 

Euthansia is not nice, whatever the circumstances.  Even if there is no other option as the horse is suffering badly, it is still far from a pleasant task.  What makes it more difficult is, when the decision is not clear cut.  The horse is still alive and able to walk around and eat and drink.  Euthanasia can be a hard thing to think about in these cases.  The thought must be with the horse though.  A horse does not like being kept in a field as an ornament, with no company and no quality of life. Likewise it does not like being in constant pain and being unable to enjoy life. An owner may feel that they are doing the best for the horse by keeping it alive. It may not necessarily be the best thing. An outsider may be able to see this, the owner may not. It is certainly not a clear cut decision, but what is certain, the welfare of the horse must come first.