Euthanasia – When Is It Time?

By Dr. Amanda Hedges, Dr. Karie Vander Werf & Deb Haines

“Is it inhumane to keep him alive? What would YOU do in this situation?”

Making end of life decisions can be difficult and emotional. Veterinary medicine and preventative care
means horses often survive conditions that would result in death in the wild. By providing quality care for our animals, we also postpone our horse’s natural life expectancy. For example, most housing
situations lack predators that would eat a horse that can’t keep up with the its herd. We provide our
horses with regular access to feed and water so they don’t starve or suffer from dehydration as their
feral counterparts may. By taking a horse out of its “natural” environment, we also accept the
responsibility of providing a humane end for our horses. My hope is that the following considerations
will help you know when it is time to make the right choice for a peaceful passing.

1) Can your horse lie down safely, and does he/she lie down regularly (at least once every 2-3
days)? Does he/she lie down so much that he has bed sores/pressure sores?
2) Can your horse walk around? Does he/she safely and voluntarily walk around his/her
enclosure? If your horse lives in pasture, can he/she keep up with the herd?
3) Can your horse perform basic behaviors, such as picking up and holding all 4 feet for the

1) Does your horse show interest in feed? Is he/she able to chew and swallow the feed you
2) Are you able to make feed changes your horse may need?
3) Are you able to medicate your horse as frequently as he may need?
4) Is it safe for your horse to receive preventative dental care?

1) What are your horse’s three favorite things? Can he/she still do them safely and as regularly as
he/she would like?
2) Does your horse have something that he/she looks forward to (besides eating) every day?
3) Is your horse in pain? Refer to the Pain Scale developed by Colorado State University to better
answer this question (link below).
4) Can your horse’s pain be managed? Consider writing down your horse’s behaviors in a
notebook at each visit to look for changes over time.
5) Consult with people you trust who know you and your horse. Has your trainer/farrier/barn friend
noticed a difference in your horse’s attitude?

1) Can your horse’s diagnosis be cured? If it cannot be cured, can it be managed adequately? Can
you afford the costs of medications, procedures, and/or recheck visits needed to manage the
2) Are you aware of the cost of euthanasia? How will the remains be handled?
Be realistic with yourself and your situation. Honestly answer the question “What does my horse want?”
knowing that your emotions may make this question difficult to answer. Except under extreme
emergency exceptions, your veterinarian cannot make this decision for you. They can do their best to
answer your questions and support your decision.

Horse Pain Scale:

I highly recommend consulting this article for additional information:

And as always, discuss any questions or concerns that arise with your veterinarian

The Vet Corner Groups are run solely by volunteers. If you would like to support the groups, please feel free to make a donation to the running costs of the groups and websites. We thank you for your kindness!

© 2014-2022 Rural Veterinary Outreach. All Rights Reserved.