Fact Sheet: Humane Equine Euthanasia

Humane Euthanasia vs. Horse Slaughter:
It is the united opinion of the Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW) that horse slaughter is inhumane, and that it is an unacceptable way to end a horse's life under any circumstance. We believe that it is an unethical and dangerous practice for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to attempt to equate horse slaughter with humane euthanasia.

Ethical Decisions and Moral Obligations:
It is the opinion of VEW professionals that it is our ethical and moral duty to provide both counsel and service to horse owners, who for whatever reason, seek a humane end to their horses life.

“Euthanasia” is a Greek term meaning “good death”. In this context, its objectives are met when death is induced which causes no pain or distress to an animal. To avoid pain and distress requires that the techniques which are used cause immediate loss of consciousness followed by cardiac and respiratory arrest that immediately results in loss of brain function. It is the opinion of VEW professionals that all horses deserve humane care throughout their lives, beginning to end, and that it is our duty to ensure that horses are treated with respect and compassion in each life stage. Therefore, when disease or injury conditions arise that diminish quality of life or create pain and suffering that cannot be effectively relieved by medical means, euthanasia is indicated.

It is the opinion of VEW professionals that the 2000 Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia categorization of the captive bolt gun as "acceptable" was based on studies conducted on species other than equines. No evidence has been found that any scientific study has ever been conducted to determine the humaneness or efficacy of the captive bolt gun for use specifically on horses.

VEW research indicates that references cited and included in the AVMA's report and by which AVMA has based their conclusion, do not provide sufficient evidence that use of the captive bolt gun alone, without subsequent measures to ensure death, is a humane method of euthanasia for equines.

Further review finds that within the AVMA 2000 Report on Euthanasia denoted reference #112-- Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Guidelines for Humane Slaughter and Euthanasia. Australian Veterinary Journal 1987:64:4-7, the basis by which AVMA concludes the captive bolt to be an acceptable method of euthanasia for equines, is contradictory to the opinion of the AVA reference itself.

The Australian Veterinary Association clearly states the following:


Abattoirs--- "An adequate caliber firearm or a humane killer may be used to render the horse unconscious for bleeding. The captive bolt pistol is not satisfactory for horses since firm pressure on the forehead is essential for its effective use and this tends to be resisted by the horse. This problem applies to a lesser extent with the humane killer". 

Therefore, it is the united conclusion of VEW professionals that the captive bolt should be deemed "conditionally acceptable" and used only in emergency situations where no other option exists or when advanced circulatory dysfunction might diminish the efficiency of chemical euthanasia.

To read VEW's recommendations for Equine Euthanasia,
click here.

(updated February 2007)