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Time to say farewell

We were apprehensive about having a whole evening devoted to talking about putting horses to sleep, but at the same time we knew that it really wouldn’t appeal to some, so we didn’t want to mix it up with other horse health topics. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Despite a smaller than usual group for our talks evenings, we were pleasantly surprised at the turn out, and we all came away feeling very positive about the evening.

Here is an overview of the take home messages from the different speakers

Lindsay Brazil
The evening was about giving an overview of the many different things to consider with horse euthanasia. It was not about giving owners right or wrong answers, but about thinking about all the options to enable planning ahead.

We are privileged to own animals, and as such we are stewards of their welfare. It is up to us to give a horse a good life and a good death.

How many horses die of natural causes?
The latest research showed that only 9 per cent of horses die of natural causes, which means in the other 91 per cent of cases the decision to euthanase will have to be made either electively or in an emergency.

Considering your horse’s welfare and quality of life is imperative when thinking about euthanasia and whilst it is not an easy decision to make, the implications in delaying it can have a much greater impact on their welfare and on your peace of mind.

Options for euthanasia in horses

Euthanasia by lethal injection

• Most commonly used method in pleasure horse practice
• Perceived as less traumatic than euthanasia with a firearm
• The drug used is Somulose (cinchocaine HCL & Quinalbarbitone sodium) which is a barbiturate & local anaesthetic
• The cost for euthanasia is approximately £250 plus visit fee
• The passport must be checked, declared and signed not for human consumption. Send back to Passport Issuing Authority.
• A safe place for euthanasia is essential. Consider access for removal of the body
• Sedation is usually given prior to euthanasia by lethal injection
• A catheter is usually placed
• The owner/carer may hold the horse whilst the Injection is given. The vet then takes over as the horse falls to the ground

Euthanasia by free bullet

• Requires skill and experience – fewer vets are keeping up with their licenses.
• Cheaper. The cheapest option is still the hunt
• Alternative disposal options – hunt, human food chain.
• Humane when crried out by skilled operator
• Quick
• More predictable.
• Less aesthetically pleasing.

How do vets feel about euthanasia?

• Vets have often formed relationship with the owner and horse
• Vets will want the procedure to go as smoothly as possible and may be pre-occupied with this
• There has been recent awareness of stress and depression within the veterinary profession. Dealing with euthanasia has been sited as one of the causal factors (although there are many others)

Insurance and BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) Guidlelines

As a guide BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) considers that an affected horse will need to meet the following requirements to satisfy a claim under a mortality insurance policy:-
• “That 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.”
• “If immediate destruction cannot be justified then the attending veterinary surgeon should provide effective first aid treatment before:-
i) requesting that the insurance company be contacted or, failing that
ii) arrange for a second opinion from another veterinary surgeon.”

Further guidelines from BEVA. Full guidelines can be found at
https://www.beva.org.uk/Home/Resources-For-Owners/Guidance/Humane-Destruction

BEVA considers that the decision to advise an owner to destroy a horse on humane grounds must be the responsibility of the attending veterinary surgeon, based on his assessment of the clinical signs at the time of the examination, regardless of whether or not the horse is insured. The veterinary surgeon’s primary responsibility is to ensure the welfare of the horse.
Insurance Companies frequently require some form of examination after death.
BEVA recognises that there may be occasions when the attending veterinary surgeon will advise euthanasia but such a decision may not necessarily lead to a successful insurance claim.
It is important that all parties are aware of this potential conflict of interests before a horse is destroyed. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure compliance with any policy contract with an insurer.

Other things to think about:

Companions to that horse. Ideally they should see the horse after euthanasia.
Family members and children. Depends on many factors including age. Honesty with older children teaches them about responsible animal ownership
Ashes back or other options after euthanasia – there are now many options for incorporating tail hair into jewellery.
Include your thoughts about these decisions in a written plan (that someone else is party to, in the event that you are not contactable.

British Horse Society “Friends at the End”. FATE – Sophie Cookson

Take home messages:

FATE offer FREE advice and support before, during and after having to have your horse put to sleep. They will even be there on your behalf or be with you to help you cope with this terrible time. Many horse owners probably don’t know about this incredible service that they offer.

“Better a week to soon than a day too late”

Delayed euthanasia is one of the four most common negative impacts upon IK equine welfare

The following websites offer advice and support and objective measurements of welfare and quality of life in horses.

www.worldhorsewelfare.org/Just-in-case
http://www.bhs.org.uk/welfare-and-care/euthanasia-and-friends-at-the-end
https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-bereavement-and-pet-loss

Sophie gave an overview of the free support available to horse owners from the British Horse Society, World Horse Welfare and the Blue Cross.

Don’t be afraid of how you will feel:
Don’t be afraid of the emotions you will go through. They are normal and natural. Get support from the right people.
It was really helpful to know that grief and a series of strong emotions during the bereavement process are natural. Many people described feeling judged or silly because off these emotions in relation to an animal. However studies have shown that pet and horse loss can elicit the same range of emotions felt when a human family member dies.

Phillip Smith-Maxwell



Having Phillip speak about his experiences was just brilliant. We all wondered about how the tales of the person who collects the bodies we have sadly put to sleep, would go. Phillip is renowned for his utterly respectful approach to end of life situations, as well as the many other roles he finds himself in, often with horses and owners in distress. Phillip provides an ambulance service at many race meets, not least at the Cheltenham Festival, and also picks up many very much alive horses for all sorts of reasons, including moving and relocating horses for the RSPCA and horses involved in road traffic accidents.

Phillip recounted stories about how he first became involved in horse collection through seeing a horse that wasn’t collected promptly at a point to point. After losing his entire dairy herd to the horrors of Foot and Mouth disease he decided to start his own business focussing on prompt and appropriate euthanasia and collection and on ambulance services for horses. The thing that clearly resonates through Phillips tales is his strong sense of welfare for the animal, and respect for the owner.
He talked us through approaches to nervous and head shy horses, and through what happens after the horse has been put to sleep. The crematorium he uses in North Wales is highly regulated, and he detailed the process of individual creation for owners that request it.
His talk was interspersed with anecdotes which show the love and respect he has for the world of animals and the importance of their welfare at all times. He told us about his ferrets that he used to take to dinner parties, and how devastated he was when he had to put them to sleep. And we heard about the heat from the incinerator at the crematorium, and how in the summer months hundreds of bats could be seen feeding on insects in the pillar of heat rising from the crematorium. The small unexpected consequences of saying that final farewell that we just wouldn’t think about.

As with the other speakers though, Phillip’s take home message was to think of the horse first and foremost. Make the decision early not late and be brave.


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Anna’s top tips for dealing with mudfever

  1. DON’T wash your horses’ legs off with cold water – horse skin HATES cold water, you are better to let the mud dry on and then brush it off. If you have the luxury of warm water, great! Wash away but…
  2. DO make sure your horses’ legs dry thoroughly – special leg wraps are available, towel drying or even a hair dryer on the warm NOT hot setting can be used. Leaving them cold AND wet is a big no no.
  3. DO pick the scabby bits off if you can – the bacteria (Dermatophilus congolensis) likes to live in the ooze under the scabs, so if you can pick them off (horse permitting) then it can help to speed up the healing process. Softening the scabs first can help: a warm hibiscrub wash or applying Flamazine cream then putting stable bandages on top to warm the leg/s up.
  4. DO use silver based creams – like Flamazine, it is very effective against mud fever bacteria.
  5. DO contact us if you are struggling to manage this condition, bad cases can make your horse lame, cause swelling to start in the lower leg and can occasionally lead to more complicated conditions like cellulitis – we have some more potent lotions and potions that we can use to help.
  6. Remember that there are some skin conditions that look like mud fever but are actually other problems. If the mud fever isn’t responding to treatment as you would expect then get your vet to have a look.

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