When its time to say goodbye?
Tuesday 13 July 2010
Being able to put horses and ponies to sleep is a privilege that we have, it allows us to end suffering at an appropriate time. It is often difficult to know when that time is, old age creeps up and there is a gradual deterioration in a patient’s wellbeing that can be difficult to spot. I feel that owners are the best placed to know when the time is right, they are the ones dealing with the animal on a daily basis and have probably been doing so for a long time and as such know the horse or pony better than anyone.
We as vets can examine an animal and run tests on bloods, these tests may be helpful in making a decision but often the results are equivocal and our examination is for a snap-shot in the horse’s live. I think that one of the hardest situations is when you have been treating a case such as severe laminitis for quite some time and lots of options have been tried to make the patient more comfortable, it can be so difficult to know when to draw the line and say enough.
However we do need to be careful that we do not treat animals as disposable and put them down just because the owner doesn’t want it and can’t find an alternative home for it. I think we are lucky in this country, we are a nation of animal lovers and this situation rarely occurs.
Traditionally horses have been shot when the time comes and their bodies removed by local hunts to feed the hounds. This happens much less frequently now, many hunts no-longer providing this service. Huntsmen and knackermen are still licensed to shoot horses as are most vets.
Over the last few years euthanasia using a lethal injection has found favour, the drugs used now are very effective and usually provide a smooth onward journey. The drugs basically anaesthetise the horse then stop it’s heart. These injections have to be administered by a vet. Everyone uses a slightly different technique. I usually give a mild sedative, just so the patient is unaware of anything unusual happening and as such stays calm. I then place an intravenous catheter into the jugular vein in the neck. Once this is in place I walk the horse to a suitable spot where the deed is to be done, it must by accessible for a large collection vehicle.
At this point I step away and leave the owner for a few final minutes with their old friend. Then the injection is then given, I hold the patient and try to help it lie down as carefully as possible, it is not always easy as they weigh 500Kg and can go down with a bit of a bump when they are standing. I can tell when they are about to go because they take a couple of deep breaths. Once the horse is down there may be some reflex activity such as large deep breaths which can be quite loud and take you by surprise if you are not prepared. The heart and eye reflexes are then checked to make sure the patient has passed away.
Burial of horses and ponies is illegal without prior permission from the local authorities, including the water board. The alternative is to have the patient collected by a knackerman. I usually arrange for these guys to arrive about 10 minutes after the deed has been done. Most knacker companies now have purpose built vehicles, some are four wheel drive which is useful when an animal has to be put to sleep where it is in a non elective emergency situation.Once collected the horse will be transported back to their facility for cremation.
There are many options when it comes to cremation, unfortunately the choice people make has to depend on cost. The cheapest option is for a group cremation, where several animals will be dealt with at the same time. You can select an individual cremation after which you can have all or a proportion of the ashes back. All the ash is quite a large heavy container full.
Many people go for a scatter box or some go for a wooden casket to keep a small proportion of the ashes in.
The knacker companies provide an excellent service and usually work well in conjunction with their local vets.
With regards to the remaining companions of the deceased horse, often people like them to see their friend lying down and not getting up. Some people feel that they are more settled after this as they are not then expecting them to return. Often with donkeys I will put one down and leave it with its friends for several hours before having the body collected, I do the same when I have to put a foal down I will leave it with the mare for a while. If the loss of a horse leaves only one remaining and they are unsettled then other animals such as sheep can be good companions or even try using a mirror in the stable.
Being prepared is for the euthanasia of an old friend is a very wise thing to do, the last thing you want is to have to deal with decisions at a very sensitive time. In Emergency situations when horses and ponies have to be put to sleep in a rush it can be difficult to think straight, however your vet will guide you through the process and make the procedure as smooth as possible.
Written by Ed Lyall, Arundel veterinary hospital
Horsing around East Anglia
|Offer your advice|
visit now >
All forms of livery are available, from DIY to Training. We will cater to your needs
visit now >
Guarantees your horse long-lasting protection against flies and insects.