Humane Euthanasia

AAEP Guidelines for Euthanasia (2011)


The AAEP recommends that the following  guidelines be considered in evaluating the need for humane euthanasia  of a horse. The attending veterinarian is often able to assist in making  this determination, especially regarding the degree to which the horse  is suffering.  It should be pointed out that each case should be  addressed on its individual merits and that the following are guidelines  only.  It is not necessary for all criteria to be met.  Horses may be  euthanized at an owner’s request for other reasons, as the owner has  sole responsibility for the horse’s care.  Prior to euthanasia, clear  determination of the insurance status of the horse should be made as  this policy constitutes a contract between owner and insurance carrier. 

In accordance with AVMA’s position on euthanasia of  animals, the AAEP accepts that humane euthanasia of unwanted horses or  those deemed unfit for adoption is an acceptable procedure once all  available alternatives have been explored with the client.  A horse  should not have to endure conditions of lack of feed or care erosive of  the animal’s quality of life.This is in accord with the role of the  veterinarian as animal advocate.

The following are guidelines to assist in making humane decisions regarding euthanasia of horses. 

  • 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.

Techniques for Euthanasia – The following techniques for performing euthanasia of horses by properly trained personnel are deemed acceptable: 

1. Intravenous administration of an overdose of barbiturates 

2. Gunshot to the brain ( Shearer  JK, Nicoletti P. Humane euthanasia of sick, injured and/or debilitated  livestock. University of Florida IFAS Extension) 

3. Penetrating captive bolt to the brain ( Shearer  JK, Nicoletti P. Humane euthanasia of sick, injured and/or debilitated  livestock. University of Florida IFAS Extension) 

4. Intravenous administration of a solution of  concentrated potassium chloride (KCl) with the horse in a surgical plane  of general anesthesia. 

5. Alternative methods may be necessary in special circumstances. 

Special Considerations for the Insured Horse and Cases Involving Multiple Practitioners: 

Each insurance policy for a horse is a contract  between the horse owner and the insurance company and will dictate the  specific terms and conditions concerning the payment of a mortality  claim. Careful consideration should be given to possible “conflicts of  interest” as referenced in the Ethical and Professional Guidelines in  the AAEP Resource Guide and Membership Directory. The attending,  consulting and referring veterinarians should follow the Ethical and  Professional Guidelines under section IV, “Attending, Consulting and  Referring,” as described in the AAEP Resource Guide & Membership  Directory.


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 PROCEDURES FOR THEHUMANEEUTHANASIA OFSICK, INJURED AND/ORDEBILITATEDLIVESTOCKPrepared Especially ForLivestock Owners and Producers,Livestock Market Operators and Transportersor Others Who may Need to Know “Euthanasia”is a Greek term meaning “good death”.  In this context, its objectivesare met when death is induced which causes no pain or distress to an animal.  To avoid pain anddistress requires that the techniques which are used cause immediate loss of consciousness followedby cardiac and respiratory arrest that ultimately results in loss of brain function.  Persons whoperform this task must be technically proficient and have a basic understanding of the anatomicallandmarks and equipment used for humane euthanasia of animals.    The purpose of this brochure is to describe proper procedures for humane euthanasia of sickand/or debilitated animals in farm, ranch or other situations where veterinary supervision may notbe available.  Livestock owners and others who derive all or a portion of their livelihood from animalagriculture share a moral obligation to ensure the welfare of animals.  Therefore, when  diseaseor injury conditions arise that diminish quality of life or create pain and suffering that cannot beeffectively relieved by medical means, euthanasia is indicated.  Examples include the following:•  Fractures of the legs, hip or spine that are not repairable and result in immobility or inability to stand•  Emergency medical conditions that result in excruciating pain that cannot be relieved bytreatment (e.g. terminal colic in horses, or trauma associated with highway accidents) •  Emaciation and/or debilitation from disease or injury that may result in an animal being too weak to be transported •  Paralysis from traumatic injuries or disease that result in immobility•  Advanced eye disease (e.g. lymphoma or cancer eye in cattle)•  Disease conditions for which cost of treatment is prohibitive •  Disease conditions where no effective treatment is known (Johnes Disease in ruminants), prognosis is poor or time to expected recovery is unusually prolonged•  Rabies suspect animals - where there is significant threat to human health (These animalsshould not be killed by gunshot or other methods which result in head trauma that mightcause excessive damage or loss of brain tissue and increase potential for human exposure to the rabies virus.  Instead, rabies suspect animals should be attended to by a veterinarian who can properly euthanize the animal and obtain brain tissue for diagnostic purposes.) 


Bachelor Hearts

Additional Information

  Irresponsible  breeding leads to unwanted animals, which can lead to neglect, abuse and/or  slaughter for many. The issues with pregnant mare urine in  pharmaceuticals like Premarin are a case in point.  

 The North Carolina Horse Council (NCHC) is a private, non-profit  organization dedicated, through education, to the protection, growth and  development of the equine industry in North Carolina.  The NCHC Geld  Program was established to ensure that all equines have access to  castration surgeries, regardless of their caretakers’ financial  situation.   The North Carolina Horse Council requires that individuals  provide the requested information on the attached form regarding income,  family size and horse information so that we can provide financial  assistance in a fair and consistent manner.  All information will be  kept confidential.   Link to application is below. 

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 According to the AAEP "Positive Perspective of Castration 

Horse  owners can promote equine welfare by becoming educated on castration  practices and working proactively to address widespread concerns of the  unwanted horse. 

If the goal is to continue to improve a  breed and minimize the number of horses that fail to meet expectations,  the surgical procedure of castration should be utilized to decrease the  number of unwanted horses. Horse owners can act responsibly by putting  the horse first." 


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