2 Why euthanasia? Euthanasia basically means ‘good death’ Old or diseased animals should be given the benefit of a good death to avoid suffering, where appropriateIt is not seen as acceptable in this country to allow animals to essentially die of starvation due to ‘old age’ and veterinary attention or euthanasia is requiredOwners must take responsibility for preventing suffering by euthanasia, even if they find it difficult
3 Why euthanasia? In times of recession In some cases the decision to euthanase is clear cutIn other cases there may be a difficult decision to make, particularly with an older, retired horse because:It may be possible to avoid suffering in some older horses for example bytreating dental problems,ensuring worming is done correctlyand supplementing feed or using total hay replacerensuring adequate weather protection – shelter / rugs.However these measures may be considerably more expensive than the management which may have been sufficient when the horse was younger.
4 Attitudes to Euthanasia Some people feel guilty when they cannot afford to provide an elderly horse with expensive managementOthers will have no qualms about having a horse euthanased, rather than keep a retired horseSome people are greatly affected by other people’s opinions (and we all know horsey people have plenty of those) and others are notVets dealing regularly with horses are quite used to attitudes varying from the commercial, to the beloved pet which the client wants to keep alive to the point where they have to be advised that welfare is becoming an issue.Vets are particularly used to dealing with euthanasia on a regular basis and need to be aware we may have different attitudes to those of the general public
5 Euthanasia Decisions If ? Why? When? Where? By what method? These decisions are interlinked and therefore must be considered briefly when considering options for method of euthanasia
6 If? – The Vet’s RoleIt may surprise you how few decisions to euthanase , vets are involved in.The majority of cases where we are asked for our advice are whether an animal requires immediate or urgent euthanasia for catastrophic illness or pain such as(surgical) colicFractured leg and other major orthopaedic injuriesPainful conditions where treatment is unsuccessful, prolonged or very expensive such as some cases of severe laminitisInability to rise
7 If? – The Vet’s RoleThe number of young and middle aged horses that require euthanasia due to medical (as opposed to surgical) conditions is not that great and therefore it is difficult to make generalisations about how decisions are madeThe older horseIn many cases of older horses we will either have been called in earlier – when an elderly horse started to lose significant weight - or not at allOlder horses losing weight may commonly have dental problems, liver or other organ dysfunction, cushings disease or combinations of the above and some cases may improve with treatment and dietary change and others may notEven in these cases, once diagnosis and treatment have been attempted, often the owner will make a decision on euthanasia themselves when the horse deteriorates
8 If? – The Vets Role Complications caused by Insurance –in brief: Many horses are insured for death - including euthanasia on humane grounds – there is a legal definition of this and a pay-out on the value of the horse will only be applied if the horse had to be immediately destroyed and no other treatment options were possibleThis means that (commonly) colic surgery or other (possibly expensive) treatments must be provided rather than euthanasia even if the horse is not insured for vets fees, if a pay-out is to be received.A post mortem is usually required and the owner is liable for the cost of this
9 Why? – implications for methods In emergency situations where horses have to be euthanased immediately on welfare grounds, it is usually necessary to call a vet who must provide emergency cover 24/7.In this situation carcass disposal options may be reduced, for example if the horse must be put to sleep by injection, or in a field.Horses being euthanased because they are diseased or very thin, will often not be suitable for slaughter for human consumption
10 Where? Usually least distressing option for most horses At homeTransportUsually least distressing option for most horsesSite needs to be accessible for carcass to be picked up. Need to contact disposal company for detailsIncurs cost for carcass pick-up (unless hunt kennels will pick-up for free)To slaughterhouse, hunt kennels, knackers yard (or vet premises)Horse must be fit for transport (+/- consumption)Becoming more common as cheaper option
11 When?Possibly most important to consider in old weak horses that may be experiencing difficulty rising – if possible avoid leaving until horse is stuck down in field as logistics of carcass removal can be more complicated, more expensive and distressingIn general owners with old horses like ‘give them the summer’ on grass and aim to make a decision on euthanasia before winter sets in – again best not to leave too latePlan for disposal in conjunction with making appointment with vet, if vet is to euthanase horse. Vets usually try to be flexible and give specific time appointments for euthanasia
12 Planning for Euthanasia Owners or their agents will need to investigate local options for carcass disposalThe horse’s temperament and whether it is used to being handled may need to be considered – if in doubt seek veterinary advice
13 Euthanasia Methods By injection Vet only Using a free bullet gun Captive boltAt a slaughterhouse only
14 Injectable euthanasia SomuloseThe most commonly usedA barbiturate anaesthetic – secobarbitalAnd a local anaesthetic – cinchocaineSecobarbital anaesthetises the horse so that it is unconscious, then cinchocaine stops the heart - blocks conduction of signals in muscle and nerve cells.The two drugs are given in combination (come mixed, in the same bottle)
15 Other drugs for injectable euthanasia Barbiturates alone - PentobarbitoneCommonly used before somulose licensedLarge volumes required
16 Injectable euthanasia method The jugular vein is used in almost all casesMost veterinary surgeons insert a catheter (canula) in most casesThe horses are usually sedated slightly and a small quantity of local anaesthetic is inserted under the skin over the jugular before the catheter is insertedThen the euthanasia agent is injected through the catheter
17 Why use a catheter?A catheter is used to try to ensure that the whole dose of the drug is delivered into the vein rather than partially under the skin, and helps ensure it can be delivered quickly enough, without having to check that a needle is still in the veinA catheter helps ensure that should more drug be required after the horse has gone down, that access to the vein is readily available, even if the horse is not in an ideal position for venepuncture
18 Why use sedation?Sedation is used to help in catheter insertion but also produces a more aesthetic euthanasia by keeping the horse calm and allowing the anaesthetic drugs to work correctly, without excitation reactions
19 Injectable euthanasia - logistics Injectable euthanasia preparation takes perhaps 5-10 minutes to sedate horse and insert a catheterAfter injection is done the process (with somulose) takes seconds to collapse and 2-3 minutes till the corneal (eye) reflex is gone.During this time the vet would listen to the heart to check that has stopped or is slowing in a reasonable time
20 Somulose - AestheticsUsually with somulose there is minimal muscle tremor although some horses will gasp - usually once or twice onlyOccasionally there can be delayed death with normal collapse – in this case a further dose delivered quickly should stop the heartTherefore if the heart continues to beat for a period after collapse I will deliver a further dose (better safe than sorry)The horse is anaesthetised and still at this stage, and therefore the owner can be reassured that there is no problem.In my experience owners are usually not distressed as there is no outward sign of life and a catheter allows ease of delivery of further drug without fuss.
21 Injectable euthanasia - Aesthetics In conclusion – euthanasia by injection is often the most aesthetic methodIt can be used safely in confined areas such as stablesMost vets will use somulose - the technique is simple, does not involve multiple syringes and is relatively reliable for safe and aesthetic collapseAlthough there is no perfect method of euthanasia problems with somulose are relatively rare and are usually not distressing as the horse is anaesthetised and still
22 Cost ImplicationsInjectable euthanasia tends to be relatively expensiveVeterinary surgeon only (charge for visit and euthanasia)Somulose and sedative drugs are not cheap (at least £60 added)Horses euthanased by injection cannot be fed to hunt hounds due to high toxicity of drugs
23 Euthanasia by firearmA free bullet gun should be used in horses as captive bolt pistols are not powerful enough to be reliableThe horse should fall immediately to the ground and are often still but in some cases there will be vigorous involuntary muscle movementsMany veterinary practices have vets with firearms licenses although not all
24 Problems of euthanasia by firearm There is a risk of ricochet injury to humans if the correct angle and position of entry are not achieved therefore an enclosed space can be dangerousIn rare cases pithing is required if the brain and brainstem are not destroyed by the bullet – this is not very aesthetic (to say the least)In almost all cases there is copious haemorrhage which may not be acceptable to the ownerIn head-shy horses sedation (and therefore a veterinary surgeon) may still be requiredAccording to UK police guidance a clear distance of 2km in direction of shot is required for safety, with no dwellings vehicles or animals. However this is not often adhered to and a barn of straw or hill behind may be substituted.
25 Advantages of euthanasia by firearm Reduced cost compared to injectable techniquesThe carcass can be fed to dogs and in this case euthanasia disposal may not be charged for if a local hunt is available- not always easy to find a hunt that disposes of horses these daysCost of euthanasia is often included in cost of disposal where fallen stock disposal companies euthanase and pick up carcass
26 Euthanasia of difficult horses Very needle-shy horses which cannot be sedated intravenously present a challenge for injectable euthanasia and may require euthanasia with a firearmIntramuscular and oral sedation techniques prior to injectable euthanasia are not usually appropriate as they will affect the efficacy of euthanasia agents – more complex techniques utilising anaesthesia may be possible in extremis but would be expensive.Intramuscular sedation prior to shooting is an option in difficult situationsUnhandleable horses requiring urgent destruction from a distance, when they are still mobile (running away) are highly unlikely, but may require the services of a professional marksman – vanishingly rare situation outwith feral populations
27 Options for carcass disposal Fallen Stock Disposal companies (the knacker man)The Local Hunt – carcass fed to houndsPet CrematoriumBury carcass at homeLive transport for slaughter for human consumption – only if passported and have not had phenylbutazone and some other drugs
28 Fallen stock disposalThese companies usually employ slaughtermen who are able to shoot horses and will remove the carcass at the same timeHowever – some slaughtermen have more experience with handling and shooting horses and with handling horse owners than others, and this method may not be suitable for all situationsThese companies will also pick up horses euthanased by a vet
29 Fallen stock disposalOwner pays for carcass to be removed and it is usually incineratedLocal companies differ as to how aesthetically this is doneMost companies pick up on large wagons which are likely to contain other carcasses and will not be able to enter fields – hard standing is required for the lorry and the carcass is winched onto it via a wire secured around the neckSome companies in some local areas have a specialist driver/vehicle which is smaller and may be able to enter fields if ground conditions are good enough. A winch and wire around the neck are still used
30 Local Hunt KennelsMore difficult than it was historically to find hunt kennels that will dispose of carcassesCarcasses fed to dogs - so must be shot and any medications recently received by the horse should be discussed with kennelsman before booking euthanasiaOften able to pick up carcass from home but may accept horses being transported to their premises for euthanasia
31 Pet Crematorium Horses are incinerated individually Most expensive optionIn most cases euthanasia by a vet will be necessary as these companies don’t usually have staff which shoot horsesCan be more acceptable carcass pick-up for client as individual small vehicle usually used (no dead animals already on vehicle) and can be more accommodating in picking up animals from fields and enclosed spacesDifferent carcass options availableIndividual cremation with ashes backCasket options
32 Burying carcasses at home Allowed in some local authority areas for pet horsesPermission is required from the local authorityMust not be near a watercourse – advice from local authorityOwners must be aware that even small ponies will require mechanised digging equipment!!!Injectable euthanasia or firearm may be used for animals to be buried
33 Slaughter for human consumption These animals must be transported alive for slaughter at a slaughterhouse licensed to kill horses for human consumptionBecause horse meat is not traditionally eaten in the UK there are currently only 3 slaughterhouses of this type in the UK – two in the West of England and one in the NorthIt is not necessarily easy for the individual horse owner to utilise this as a method of disposal and in general a middleman who buys horses for slaughter is usually involved
34 Slaughter and Passports Horses to be slaughtered for human consumption must have been passported (including a microchip for all new passports) within the first 6 months of life or before December 31st in the year of birth, whichever is laterThis is to try to ensure that the animal will not have received any drugs which cannot enter the food chain before being passportedSection IX part II must not be signed – Signing this section precludes the horse from human consumption and means that medicines do not need to be recordedHorses that have received phenylbutazone (bute) at any time cannot go into the human food chain as it can cause blood cell abnormalities in sensitive people which can be fatal. There is therefore no safe minimum concentration of bute in meat
35 Attitudes to slaughter for human consumption This option is often not considered by pet owners for obvious reasons but commercial and other horse owners may consider that this is a humane option for unwanted horses.This may be an alternative to trying to salvage some value from the horse by selling it to a dealer. Some dealers may or may not be reputable, and could sell an animal which is not able to perform the work that is required of it, to an owner who is not prepared to deal with such an animal.Is it better to be transported for slaughter than be passed from pillar to post and possibly mistreated or neglected if a horse’s wellness or temperament preclude work?Obviously this decision needs to take into account the horse’s suitability for transport on temperament and health grounds and the distance and method of transport.
36 Paying for Euthanasia and Disposal In most cases disposal companies and crematoria will expect payment in advance by card for private individual horse owners or cash or cheque at the timeSlaughter for human consumption will provide the owner with recompense according to the meat price as long as the carcass is accepted at meat hygiene inspection
37 Further sources of information and advice Humane Slaughter Association hand-out has useful contacts at the backPhone advice is free from your vet…
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