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Methods of euthanasia - discussion, please

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  • Methods of euthanasia - discussion, please

    I don't know why, but lately I've been giving a lot of thought as to how I will have my horse put down when the time comes. Personally, I hope he will just lay down some sunny spring day and take a nap and never wake up, but you know that life doesn't always work that way.

    Personally, I'm leaning towards a captive bolt. Do any vets even use this method any more?

    The needle scares me, scares my horse, and I've heard horror stories of long, drawn out ordeals.

    I want him to be alive one second and dead the next. No in between.

    And hopefully I won't have to make the decision for another 15 or 20 years...
    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton

  • #2
    Thanks for posting this thread. It's actually something I've been thinking about a lot lately, too, even though I hope it's not a decision I have to make any time soon. I don't really have anything constructive to add, but I do look forward to seeing the responses.
    "If you can't walk with the big horses, stay in the stall!"


    • #3
      HIMGA, I talked to my vet about this a few years ago and he does not have/use a captive bolt. What he does use, if he isn't using chemical euthanasia, is a .22 (in place of the captive bolt). Don't know if all vets will give you a choice but I think it is a good thing to find out.

      I think if it is done by a professional, that the .22 will be much faster than chemicals (assuming your horse holds still).

      I think I would have no objection to the .22 but I don't think I could be there.
      No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. - Eleanor Roosevelt
      For you to insult me, I must first value your opinion - Unknown
      Pleasure Portrait 1989-2016...sleep well my girl


      • #4
        its a special gun the vets use -- so iam told

        i have always had my horses shot if they need to be pts
        its quick
        and it not messy


        • #5
          Originally posted by hitchinmygetalong View Post
          Personally, I'm leaning towards a captive bolt. Do any vets even use this method any more?
          None that I've ever met. The AVMA also states on their web site that injection is the first choice, gunshot the second if injection isn't an option. They state "captive bolt and rectal artery bleed-out" are not acceptable methods for horses.

          The needle scares me, scares my horse, and I've heard horror stories of long, drawn out ordeals.
          Keep in mind some of that ordeal is the body kicking as the nerves shut down... the horse is gone at that point. The horse hit with a bullet or captive bolt may also thrash about a bit. Don't let it bother you.

          My objection to capitve bolt is that it needs to be held right up against the skull before it's triggered. If at that moment the horse spooks or jerks, it can miss. Even the man in the slaughterhouse misses sometimes.

          I don't think your horse is scared by a needle any more than he is scared by a vaccination. He doesn't know this is THE needle. Keep calm, reassure him, and convince him it's just a vaccination.

          When I had my old QH mare put down, we did the needle. At that point she was already on the ground, unable to rise. The vet used a needle, and slowly injected as she watched the horse's reaction. The horse just laid her had down, stopped struggling, and that was it.

          I want him to be alive one second and dead the next. No in between.
          Alas, life is never that simple. No matter the methods, there will be a few moments as he falls to the ground. Try not to agonize over those last few seconds. It's the days, weeks, months, and years leading up to that point that really matter!

          If the time comes, sometimes it comes unexpectedly rather than having weeks warning. If the horse is suffering, if the needle is the most readily available method, you'll be relieved it's there as an option.

          Somel horses would live to a heathy old age and then pass away painlessly in their sleep. Who knows? Maybe you won't even have to make the decision.
          Veterinarians for Equine Welfare


          • #6
            Originally posted by hitchinmygetalong View Post

            The needle scares me, scares my horse, and I've heard horror stories of long, drawn out ordeals.
            You can ask that your horse be heavily sedated prior to The Injection to avoid this.


            • #7
              Originally posted by CANTERSoIL View Post
              You can ask that your horse be heavily sedated prior to The Injection to avoid this.
              Yup. First step with small animals is usually to give a sedative then to give "the" injection. Of course small animals are easier to begin with, as they can be placed laying down whereas you can't ask your horse to lie down on command (well, at least most horses ).

              Having recently put two dogs down, I can say that the passing is peaceful and doesn't take that long to stop the heart. A gunshot/bolt to me would not be peaceful and certainly would not instantiously stop the heart, etc. I'd chose the needle every time...


              • Original Poster

                So, is euthanasia via sedative overdose a fairly "American" practice?

                I appreciate your responses. Perhaps I'm just a little leery of the needle because of a couple of euthanasias I witnessed that were less than peaceful. Bad luck on my part, I guess?
                "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton


                • #9
                  Originally posted by hitchinmygetalong View Post
                  So, is euthanasia via sedative overdose a fairly "American" practice?
                  Some vets do this routinely (heavily sedated prior to euthanasia solution), with others you have to ask.


                  • #10
                    iget mine sedated when shot so they dont know


                    • #11
                      Yes, to the sedation.

                      The horse I had to have put down a few months ago was first sedated and then when she was in la-la land the final shot was given, and she was gently helped to the ground. There was no thrashing, it was very peaceful, thankfully.

                      Also, maybe it helped that she was ready to go.



                      • #12
                        My Stormin' Norman was gently ushered through the portals of The Rainbow Bridge last week by injection, as was my mare Lucky several years earlier.

                        A detailed description of the process follows below:

                        He was led to the selected place, where the Vet gently placed an IV (catheter) in his neck vein. A sedative was injected into the IV, and in less than a minute he became very relaxed and drowsy. The lethal injection was then introduced through the IV and within a matter of seconds his legs buckled, he sank to the ground, and rolled onto his side. There were no violent jerks or spasmodic movements, only a slight trembling of a hind leg and the fluttering of an eyelid as he lay on the ground, both of which ceased within perhaps 15 seconds. It was all very peaceful. The Vet said he lost all cognition as he went down, and the trembling and fluttering were reflex actions. With the IV, only one insertion is required.

                        I've tried to offer this description as objectively as possible, although I have to admit my eyes are misty as I type these last words.

                        Bless you for thinking ahead! And most of all, be calm and kind to your horse as he is led out!
                        The inherent vice of Capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.
                        Winston Churchill


                        • #13
                          I can't think of the name of the drug, but our vet uses a barbiturate first to make them feel sky-high before administering the second shot.

                          I can't help but think that people describing "a long, drawn-out ordeal" are mistaken. After the horse is dead, there's still air in them - the horse is dead but it might seem to some that they're gasping.
                          It's a uterus, not a clown car. - Sayyedati


                          • #14
                            Keep in mind, too, that euthanasia has progressed. Prior bad experiences that were many years ago may be related to drugs which are no longer used. What is used is quick, painless, and effective. Any movements after death are just reflexes, like you hear about chickens running around after their heads have been cut off. It's the same idea. The animal is dead, some nerves are just having a "last hurrah," so to speak.

                            A well-placed gunshot can do the trick, but I'd personally take the injection any day.
                            Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
                            Do not buy a Volkswagen. I did and I regret it.
                            VW sucks.


                            • #15
                              A barbiturate is what is used to provide euthanasia. It does not in any way make the horse "sky high". It is a powerful sedative which will also halt breathing.

                              We use much lower doses of similar medications to provide brief, deep sedation for painful procedures. The onset of unconsciousness is very fast, and typically very peaceful.

                              I put my old doggie down a few months ago by lethal injection. She put her muzzle on my knee, gave a big sigh and was gone in seconds. Very peaceful.

                              I don't look forward to ever having to do this, but it does indeed pay to think ahead. I would probably opt for a sedated horse first and have it done right at the site where I'd be doing the burying.
                              Click here before you buy.


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by CANTERSoIL View Post
                                You can ask that your horse be heavily sedated prior to The Injection to avoid this.
                                Exactly. And the brain itself should be heavily sedated, ( i.e. asleep just as when you have surgery) when the lethal dose shuts down the heart/respiration. So even if the horse has spasms or other movement/sounds caused by nerves he would not be aware of it.

                                I've seen animals shot and unless you are REALLY good there is a big chance of it going very wrong. BUT if someone is a good shot (and is not squeamish or very emotionally attached so as to maybe lose their aim at the last moment) it is humane. It doesn't hurt to give a second shot to be sure once the animal is down. Many people get shot in the head and look very dead but end up recovering (however compromised they might be).

                                As mentioned above rectal tear and captive bolts are not considered humane and should only be used in extreme emergencies when there is no other choice and the animal is in extreme pain. Unless the horse is deeply sedated or otherwise immobile the rectal arterial tear could be quite dangerous to the person too.

                                Captive bolts are designed to stun the animal into unconsciousness so it can be bled out alive and as was pointed out require the person to make direct contact with the horse's head. Again unless the horse is sedated he might object strenuously to something coming near his face (vs. a gun where you can stand off and the horse doesn't know what it is). Now they MAY kill immediately and they may not and may require repeated hits before they actually die and they may or may not actually be unaware during all that. Which is why it is not considered a humane means of euthanasia.

                                Even with all the animals I've seen put down at the shelter without any sedation I've never seen one that did anything but slump over when given a shot in a vein. Nor have I known anyone personally who has had such a trauma. The worst thing about horses if seeing them fall but by that time they are dead already, just remember that. And if that is very bothersome the vet can sedate them enough to lay them down as they would for surgery.

                                And seriously if seeing such things upsets you then kiss your horse goodbye, give him a treat and let someone else deal with the euthanasia. Then when he's down and gone and peaceful you can come back and say good bye. In this case you probably do not want to be there for the burial or removal either. Even though the animal is gone it can still be hard to watch. And not being there does not make you a bad horse mom (or dad).
                                Every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.

                                Proud Closet Canterer! Member Riders with Fibromyalgia clique.


                                • #17
                                  I had the exact same experience as FrankB when we lost my short stirrup pony a few years back. It was very calm and peaceful. I had never experienced it before, and I have to say, it was a good experience (not scary or violent in any way). I felt that she went out with a lot of dignity and with very, very little discomfort. Since I have two seniors now, I know that it won't be too long before we have to make the decision again and I probably wouldn't change a thing.


                                  • #18
                                    The end of a life is always a big concern...and not one anyone likes to think about or plan.
                                    I've seen needle, gunshot and captive bolt. IMO, gunshot *by an experienced person" seemed the most "humane." (gunshot was done twice that I've witnessed with traumatic injuries)
                                    My biggest worry with a euthanasia issue would be getting a vet out here quickly if speed was necessary. I really don't like to think of one of my beloved horses suffering for 30-45 minutes or so until a vet can get to my property. My second biggest worry is having a horse go down in a stall...how does one remove the body afterwards?
                                    We've had a host of health worries with both of our horses on and off for the last 4 months. (just one of those really bad luck runs) So far more than once I thought I was losing one or the other at some point. Makes you really think afterwards of how to handle things.
                                    I do have firearms on premises and will use one if required. It'll break my heart to do it, but what's most important is stopping suffering in a hopeless situation as soon as possible, having the fastest death possible and the least amount of stress to the horse.
                                    Of course I would only resort to this method if absolutely necessary. If one horse has some sort of traumatic injury (breaking leg, etc) I'm not about to have them floundering around terrified and in pain waiting for the vet.
                                    Overall...I think as hard as it is everyone should have some sort of planning on this issue. From how/when it should happen to what to do with the remains. We've tried to plan everything out as much as possible. We legally could bury on our property...but decided against that since while it wouldn't affect our well it could affect my neighbors due to the lay of both properties...I won't do that to them. We've priced out cremation and will most likely go with that. Although what the heck we'll do with the approximately 80 lbs of ashes if we choose to cremate the entire horse. (they normally cremate only the head and one front leg, sorry, gruesome) Unless the horse passes or needs to be PTS due to unknown or unusual internal issues...in which case we'll donate the body for learning purposes. We'll use needle euthanasia unless it's a dire circumstance...then firearm.
                                    And we'll PTS as soon as either of our animals' has a low life quality. I won't prolong a life for my own benefit as opposed to theirs.
                                    Making the plans ahead of time suck out loud to do...but we're glad we planned out as much as possible lately. When we were faced with the possibility of losing either of our horses recently...we noticed afterwards (when we didn't lose them thankfully) that decisions made in times of crisis are rarely good decisions. So the scares prompted us to plan things out afterwards.
                                    You jump in the saddle,
                                    Hold onto the bridle!
                                    Jump in the line!


                                    • #19
                                      I use a .22 pistol very clean and effective and over in a few seconds. But as with anything if you don't know how to do it properly don't do it.
                                      Quality doesn\'t cost it pays.


                                      • #20
                                        On the side...

                                        You do NOT have to be there when the deed is done. There is nothing wrong with saying your good-byes and letting the vet do it. If you can't handle being there or have too many unpleasant memories, you might just be better off without seeing the end. There is absolutely no shame in leaving, either. Just because someone wants to be there doesn't mean that you have to be there. Just because other people think the owner needs to stay and watch every second, doesn't mean that you must. Don't do it for other people, do what you think is best for yourself. Talk to your vet and get their position. I think there are plenty of vets out there who would rather have the owner say good-bye and leave than have a hysterical owner on their hands after the deed is done.

                                        I was privy to a break-down during a euthanasia years ago. The owner was going to say her good-byes and stay outside of the barn until it was over. Instead, she let the other boarders guilt her into watching the process so she "could be the last thing he saw as he passed on". Instead, she was so overcome at the end that her husband had to pick her up and she spent the next six months in therapy to deal with it.

                                        I've both stayed and left during various euthanasias of my horses and pets over my life. One that I didn't stay for was less than three weeks after one that I did see. I knew that I couldn't handle one more in such a short amount of time. She had plenty of calm vet techs with her instead of having a stress-out owner. It was the right choice for me at the time and I don't regret it one bit.

                                        Do what's right for you!