If you cannot see images at all on my site click here for an explanation
Medical Index
First Posted: July 29, 2008
Jan 31, 2015

Euthanasia of Horses

Guidelines for Euthanasia

    "In its Euthanasia Guidelines (2011), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) states that:

  • A horse should not have to endure continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.
  • A horse should not have to endure a medical or surgical condition that has a hopeless chance of survival.
  • A horse should not have to remain alive if it has an unmanageable medical condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.
  • A horse should not have to receive continuous analgesic medication for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.
  • A horse should not have to endure a lifetime of continuous individual box stall confinement for prevention or relief of unmanageable pain or suffering.

The AAEP also states that 'Humane euthanasia of animals is an ethical veterinary procedure.'"

The Equine Protection Network website exists to raise awareness on the issue of horse slaughter and horse abuse among other issues. We appreciate people and organizations assisting in spreading the word on horse abuse, BUT, Please Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. Equine Protection Network

"Euthanasia must be swift and free from pain and panic."

Process of Euthanizing a Horse

Making the Decision

The decision to euthanize a horse is not an easy one. Emergency situations requiring euthanasia include certain critical injuries and illness that leave the owner no choice but to end the horse's suffering. Non-emergency situations include terminal and or chronic illness or conditions, or the financial cost of treatment for an injury or illness. Economic, emotional, and space limitations can force an owner to consider euthanasia for a horse if a suitable home is not available. Among them might be such situations as: incurable, progressive or transmissible disease, chronic, severe lameness, inoperable colic, foals born with severe birth defects, old age debilitation, undue suffering. Sometimes horses may become dangerous and unmanageable.

The horse's veterinarian is best qualified to examine and evaluate the horse's condition, and to discuss potential disabilities and long-term problems with the owner.


Horses can be euthanized on the farm, on the racetrack, at the boarding stable where they are kept or at the scene of an accident. There is no need to transport a horse to a special facility to perform euthanasia. If you are a boarder make sure to discuss this with the stable manager so that they are aware of your intention, etc.

When possible the specific location must be accessible by removal equipment. Removal equipment may be a truck that is especially designed to transport dead animals or a backhoe. Due to the condition of the horse, it may not be possible to move the horse without causing further pain and suffering. A quiet, open grassy area is an ideal location for euthanizing a horse.

If the horse is insured, make sure to touch base with the insurer before the horse is euthanized. That way there should be no problem with a claim.

The grieving process is an important one. Allow yourself and those who are in any way associated with the horse to express their grief. Equine Grieving Process

Depending on laws, regulations and availability, a horse's body may be buried, cremated, rendered or taken to a landfill.

Who Performs Euthanasia?

Licensed veterinarians are required to perform euthanasia because the drugs used are a controlled substance by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA. Horses that are euthanized with drugs cannot be used for human consumption due to the drug residue in the meat.


Two people are needed to perform the euthanasia procedure. A handler is needed to hold the horse while the veterinarian administers the drugs.

The veterinarian may prefer to pre sedate the horse with a tranquilizer. This allows the handler to better control the fall and reduces the horse's unconscious and reflex movements. A violent fall and reflex movements can be very disturbing to the horse's owner and observers who are not familiar with a horse being euthanized. The drug overdose is delivered via an intravenous injection in the horse's neck. The veterinarian will use two 60cc syringes to administer 120ccs of the barbiturate to the average 1000 pound horse. The drugs used, (barbiturates, anesthetics), directly depress the central nervous system. The overdose leads to a depression of breathing and cardiac arrest.

The horse may or may not become ataxic (wobbly) upon delivery of the drug. The drugs will cause the horse to lose consciousness and collapse. Due to their large size most horses tend to drop rather suddenly. Some horses may go over backwards or lunge forward. It is helpful to realize that a horse that is being put under anesthesia for surgery also collapses to the ground in much the same manner. During surgery a horse's eyes will remain open, the same as a horse that has been euthanized. The horse's mouth will open and often their eyes will roll back in their head. This can be very disturbing to the owner and or the horse's caretakers. Again, it is helpful for the observers to understand that these same actions and movement occur when the horse is going under for surgery. The horse is unconscious and feels nothing. Frequently following euthanasia, muscle tremors and involuntary jerking take place. The horse's legs may move and there may be an exhalation or gasping sound. The owner and observers may be disturbed by this, but should understand that these are unconscious movements. The horse is actually unconscious and feels nothing just before the initial fall. People who have undergone general anesthesia realize just how quickly the drugs take effect. The horse's breathing stops and then the heart. Owners and observers must also remember that in a non-emergency euthanasia the horse is in a familiar surrounding. The horse is led outside by a familiar handler and receives an injection. The horse does not realize or know what the veterinarian has in the syringe. There is no panic. There is no pain. There is no trauma. To consider this method inhumane, would be to consider putting horses under general anesthesia inhumane.

Confirmation of Death

Confirmation of death is essential. The horse must be checked within 5 minutes to confirm death. Death may be confirmed by the absence of breathing, a heartbeat, and a corneal reflex (a blink). The veterinarian will check for a corneal reflex (blinking response), by touching the horse's cornea (surface of the eye); there should be no response to the touch if the horse is dead. The presence of any eye movement or blinking at this time is evidence of sustained or recovering brain activity. If that were to happen, the veterinarian would administer more drugs to the horse.

Drugs Used

Sodium Pentobarbital The barbiturate, Sodium Pentobarbital is the most widely used drug, and is the drug of choice for euthanizing horses. Barbiturates depress the central nervous system, with unconsciousness progressing to depression of breathing and finally cardiac arrest. The advantage of barbiturates is speed of action. This effect depends on the dose, concentration, and rate of injection. Barbiturates induce euthanasia smoothly, with minimal discomfort to the animal.

T-61 The drug T-61 is considered inhumane by many veterinarians. The horse is paralyzed but fully conscious.

The horse is suffocating and is fully aware. This drug was often used to benefit the observers of a horse being euthanized, such as at the racetrack. Due to the horse's lack of movement the fans wrongly assumed that the horse was instantly dead. T-61 is a nonbarbiturate, non-narcotic mixture of three drugs. These drugs provide a combination of general anesthetic, curariform, and local anesthetic actions. T-61 has been withdrawn from the market and is no longer manufactured or commercially available in the United States. It is available in Canada. It contains a local anesthetic, a strong hypnotic agent that depresses the central nervous system causing unconsciousness and another drug which has a paralytic effect on the respiratory center and a relaxing effect on skeletal muscles.


When owners purchase their horses, they assume responsibility for their horses' health and welfare. Preparing in advance for euthanasia can make an emotional and difficult decision less traumatic for all involved.

Medical Index