We are a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) approved equine hospital.
Euthanasia is a difficult subject to consider, but our aim is to provide a humane and painless death for your horse. Having any animal put down is a distressing experience, so it is a good idea to plan ahead in order to avoid rushed decisions under difficult circumstances.
If you have any questions or worries, discuss it with your vet who will be accustomed to helping with these diffeicult and sad situations. When a horse is put to sleep, the vet will want to check the passport beforehand and afterwards the passport should be returned to the Passport issuing organisation. We also require a consent form to be signed beforehand.
There are two methods of euthanasia commonly used:
The horse is given an overdose of anaesthetic-type drugs by intravenous injection. A sedative may be administered first. The horse looses consciousness and slowly collapses with death occurring shortly afterwards. If this method of euthanasia is used then the options for disposal are limited, as they will have to be either buried or cremated.
This method of euthanasia results in instant death of the horse. Again a sedative may be given first. The muzzle of the gun is placed on the horse’s forehead. It will fall down instantly with its legs extended and blood may pour from the nose. With this method there are involuntary movements of the horse’s legs and occasional gasps for a short period of time after the horse has died, which is normal. Not all vets carry a gun so this needs to be booked specifically.
The options for disposal of the carcass are limited and depend on the method of euthanasia and the health of the horse when it died.
Cremation is costly, but available regardless of the method of euthanasia. The ashes may be returned in a special casket if requested, either as a small amount of token ashes or as a separate individual cremation. If your horse is cremated you can choose to pay for an individual cremation and have the ashes returned to you in a box for burial, usually a large wooden casket. It is important to think about what you will want to do with the ashes when they are returned to you, as many people who have paid for ashes to be returned, subsequently choose never to collect them.
If you require a collection or cremation service, your requirements will need to be discussed with either ourselves or directly with the collection company, especially if you chose to have ashes back. There are various companies in the local area whom can provide a collection and cremation service. We can supply details on request depending on individual requirements.
You need to check with your local Trading Standards Office whether this is permitted. The European Union Regulations do not allow burial of pet horses as they consider the horse to be a food animal. At the time of writing, DEFRA does allow burial of pet horses at the discretion of the local authority. Each case is considered on an individual basis.
Rest assured that everyone concerned will want your horse’s last minutes to be peaceful. The people involved are professionals who care about animals and are used to dealing with this sensitive task. If you are able to be calm and relaxed during the procedure, then your presence is likely to be reassuring for your horse. If you are visibly distressed, then it may be better to ask a trusted friend to do this for you. Your vet will require you or someone on your behalf to sign a consent form. In a yard of several horses it is obviously essential someone is there who knows which horse is to be put down.
PLEASE NOTE: we will need to have definitive confirmation of any equine identity before we put any horse to sleep. This should preferably be in the form of a passport which can then be checked against a microchip where possible.
If the horse is insured for loss of use and a claim is going to be made, the insurance company must be notified in advance. With the exception of an emergency situation, the authorisation of the insurers is needed, otherwise the claim may be invalidated.
If a horse is destroyed on humane grounds, it must meet certain criteria to satisfy the requirements of a mortality insurance policy. The British Equine Veterinary Association guidelines state that euthanasia should be carried out if ‘the insured horse sustains an injury or manifests an illness or disease that is so severe as to warrant immediate destruction to relieve incurable and excessive pain and that no other options of treatment are available to that horse at that time’.
The insurers should be notified as soon as possible. They will require a veterinary certificate confirming the identity of the horse and the reason why it was destroyed and may also ask for a post mortem examination.
It is the horse owner’s responsibility to arrange for collection, cremation or disposal and to pay the company concerned. There are several companies in the local area that can provide various services and we can provide details on request.
The cost of disposal varies depending on how the horse is euthanased, if cremation is required and if any ashes are requested. Individual requirements can be discussed at the time and an estimate of costs can be either given by us or the company you choose to use.
As well as collection and disposal costs, there is a fee charged for the actual euthanasia and visit (where required). Currently Bell Equine charges £79.17 (+ VAT) for using a gun, plus sedation (usually £35-40 + VAT). Euthanasia by lethal injection costs £181.25 (+ VAT), for Thoroughbred sized horses (possibly more for a heavier horse) plus sedation (again usually £35-40 + VAT).
Another additional cost would potentially be for a post mortem, which may be required by your insurance company (but rarely covered by insurance). The costs for this would vary depending on what is required. Occasionally we will ask you if we can perform a post mortem to help all of us to understand more about the diseases affecting the horses under our care. In such cases we would not charge. If you do not want a post mortem performed, please tell us and we will respect your wishes.
If you have any queries or concerns regarding any aspect of this topic, please do not hesitate to contact us, either on the main office number 01622 813700 or speak directly to the vet looking after your horse.
For more information, see the below websites which offer further advice, support and councelling schemes.
World Horse Welfare - 'End of Life' and the 'Just in Case' schemes to help guide you through the process.
British Horse Society - advice, guidance and a councelling service through the 'Friends at the End' scheme.