Equine Euthanasia


The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has developed euthanasia guidelines (see VEW Humane Equine Euthanasia Fact Sheet for important clarification) to help your veterinarian assist you during this very difficult time. The AAEP's standards apply to all horses. Included in the guidelines are the following test statements:
  • Is 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 life?
There are a wide range of circumstances under which euthanasia may be considered. Among some of the most common are:
  • Incurable, progressive disease
  • Incurable, transmissible disease
  • Chronic lameness
  • Inoperable colic
  • Foals born with serious defects
  • Debilitation in old age
  • Severe traumatic injury
  • Dangerous behavioral traits
  • Undue financial burden of caring for a sick or incapacitated horse
  • Undue suffering for any reason
As veterinarians, we are duty bound to provide our equine clients with a "good death". To this end, we recommend that whenever possible, humane euthanasia be administered on site in surroundings with which the horse is familiar.
In cases where humane euthanasia will require transport to an equine hospital or other veterinary institution, we recommend that horses are transported to the nearest facility possible in order to minimize any further stress or undo suffering.
For the full AAEP Report,  Euthanasia: The Most Difficult Decision, please visit:   http://www.xcodesign.com/aaep/displayArticles.cfm?ID=108
Pentobarbital or a Pentobarbital Combination:
This is the best choice for equine euthanasia. Because a large volume of solution must be injected, use of an intravenous catheter placed in the jugular vein will facilitate the procedure. In order to facilitate catheterization and minimize equine anxiety and stress, a tranquilizer such as acepromazine, or an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist should be administered.
A properly placed gunshot can cause immediate insensibility and humane death. In some circumstances, a gunshot may be the only practical method of euthanasia. Shooting should only be performed by highly skilled personnel trained in the use of firearms and only in the jurisdictions that allow legal firearm use. Personnel, public, and nearby animal safety shold be considered. The procedure should be performed outdoors and away from public areas.

For use as a method of euthanasia in horses, the firearm should be aimed so that the projectile enters the brain, causing instant loss of consciousness. This must take into account the brain position and skull conformation of the horse, as well as the energy requirement for skull bone and sinus penetration.

Accurate targeting for gunshot euthanasia can be found here..   
Penetrating Captive Bolt Gun:
Its mode of action is concussion and trauma to the cerebrum and brainstem. Captive bolt guns are powered by gunpowder or compressed air and must provide sufficient energy to penetrate the skull of the species on which they are being used.
Conditionally acceptable when:
Administered by licensed veterinarians only, who have been properly trained and are well practiced in the use of the captive bolt gun.
Adequate physical restraint of the equine can be achieved in order to ensure proper placement of the captive bolt.
Once the equine is rendered insensitive, the animal must then be exsanguinated, or administered a lethal dose of barbituates in order to cause cardiac arrest and death.
Non-penetrating captive bolt gun

(updated February 2007)