As a horse owner, it’s hard to imagine that someday you must bid farewell to your horse. Yet eventually, if you keep your horse long enough, the day will come when it’s in your beloved animal’s best interest to ask your vet to administer humane euthanasia. It’s an extremely difficult decision, fraught with emotion. But if you prepare yourself ahead of time, accepting that making this ultimate decision is part of responsible equine stewardship, then you’re less likely to feel overwhelmed and conflicted.

In general, you and your vet may contemplate euthanasia for your horse in these four situations:

  1. A disease or injury is chronic and incurable

  2. The prognosis is hopeless, such as an inoperable case of colic

  3. Due to behavioral issues, the horse has become a hazard to itself and its handlers, even after professional training and intervention

  4. In order to relieve suffering, the horse will require daily pain medication for the remainder of its life

Of course, there are many other scenarios when humane euthanasia is considered. For example, a senior horse may be afflicted with a myriad of debilitating conditions which, in total, reduce his quality of life to the point that he is merely enduring each day. Another example is the harsh reality that some treatment options are simply financially out of the question.

To be sure, except in the instance of a severe traumatic injury, choosing to euthanize your horse is never an easy decision. But when you’re struggling with ambivalence, ask yourself this question: “By avoiding euthanasia, am I prolonging my horse’s suffering simply because it’s too painful for me to let go?” As tough as it may be, euthanizing a horse that has little or no quality of life is perhaps an owner’s most compassionate act.

When you decide to proceed with euthanasia, there are a few steps to take beforehand. First, if your horse is insured you’ll have to contact the carrier. They may require a second opinion before your horse is euthanized in order to maintain the mortality policy. Second, notify your local hauler (your vet will have the phone number) who will remove your horse’s body for either cremation (if that’s your choice) or for transport to the rendering plant. If you’re fortunate to be able to inter your horse on your property, have the gravesite prepared. Finally, be aware that you may not be able to hold or touch your horse during the actual administration. That’s because the horse will typically drop suddenly, and it requires an experienced handler to guide the horse to the ground. Therefore, say your good-byes and perhaps snip a locket of his tail hair before your vet arrives. Afterwards you can spend some time with your horse, knowing that he met a peaceful, humane end and that his suffering is over.