For many people, the idea of shooting their horse is aesthetically displeasing. There is a loud noise, the horse drops suddenly and there can be a lot of blood. In the correct hands, this method is very quick and the horse is dead instantaneously. It does require a person or veterinarian to hold a current firearm licence, and to have a gun or captive bolt readily available (in cases of emergency destruction). It cannot be performed in built-up areas or areas of tight confinement for human safety reasons. It has the advantage that the body can be disposed of in several ways, one of which although distasteful to discuss, is the removal of the body by a third party for pet food consumption. Using a gun to euthanise the horse is more commonly done in rural surroundings and is the only practical way of euthanising when the animal cannot be caught, is poorly handled or access to a vein is impossible.
Horses are large creatures and something has to be done with their body once they have been euthanised. Ideally for most, burial of the body would be the best option, however, some councils will not allow large animals to be buried on the property, so the legal position on this should be ascertained prior to the procedure being done. If they can be buried, then the vet can sometimes co-ordinate their visit (in non-emergency situations) with an earth mover so that the horse is euthanised at a similar time to the hole being dug, allowing the whole procedure (euthanasia and burial) to occur in a short period.
Unfortunately, there are cases where burial is just not practical and the body must be removed by a third party. This third person is usually a stock removalist and they have a number of options for how they can dispose of the body. Their charges and availability to remove the body will vary according to how they can dispose of the body. It is very important to disclose to the person removing the horse the method of euthanising, particularly if barbiturates have been used, as the consequences could be disastrous if the body is not handled correctly.
This has been a very sombre article to write, however, it is a topic that is very real and hopefully has given a better understanding to euthanasia. Our job as horse owners is to give them a good life — and part of that includes facilitating a good death. EQ
You might also like to read the following veterinary articles by Dr Maxine Brain:
How to Beat Heat Stress – Equestrian Life, January 2021
Medicinal Cannabis for Horses – Equestrian Life, December 2020
Foal Diarrhoea Part 2: Infectious Diarrhoea – Equestrian Life, November 2020
Foal Diarrhoea (Don’t Panic!) – Equestrian Life, October 2020
Urticaria Calls For Detective Work – Equestrian Life, September 2020
Winter’s Scourge, The Foot Abscess – Equestrian Life, August 2020
Core Strengthening & Balance Exercises – Equestrian Life, July 2020
The Principles of Rehabilitation – Equestrian Life, June 2020
When is Old, Too Old? – Equestrian Life, May 2020