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Euthanasia: Guidance for a difficult decision


Difficult as it may be to contemplate, there may come a time when, for humane or other reasons, you need to consider euthanasia for your horse. Choosing whether, or when, to end a beloved animal’s life may be the hardest decision you ever have to make regarding your horse’s welfare. However, it may be one of the most responsible and compassionate things you can do for your horse.

There is a wide range of circumstances under which euthanasia is a reasonable and responsible choice, and every case is unique. The right choice is clearly the one that is in the best interest of the horse. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends that you discuss the following questions with your veterinarian to help you decide what is right for your horse:

1. What is the likelihood of recovery or at least a return to pasture soundness or some level of usefulness?

2. Is the horse suffering?

3. How long will the horse experience the current level of pain or debility?

4. Does the horse continue to show an interest and desire to live, or has it become depressed or despondent?

5. What kind of special care will the horse require, and can you meet its needs?

6. Can you continue to provide for the horse financially?

7. What are your alternatives?

Veterinarians also consider many factors when determining if euthanasia should be considered as an option. The AAEP has developed guidelines to help your veterinarian assist you during this very difficult time. The AAEP’s standards are designed to avoid or end incurable and excessive suffering and apply to all horses, regardless of their monetary value. Among the AAEP’s guidelines for veterinarians 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?

As the horse’s owner, you ultimately have the responsibility for determining your horse’s fate. Your veterinarian can provide you with medical information and help you fully understand the implications for the horse’s future. Your veterinarian can also explain the options and offer comfort and support. But the decision ultimately rests with you, as your veterinarian cannot make this decision for you. If you are in doubt about the prognosis or your options, get a second opinion. It is important for your peace of mind that you feel sure you are making the right decision.

For more information about preparing for and making this difficult decision, ask your equine veterinarian for the euthanasia client education brochure, provided by the AAEP in partnership with Bayer Animal Health, an AAEP Educational Partner. The brochure can also be viewed online at, the AAEP’s Web site for all matters relating to horse health.

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