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Equine Euthanasia Guidelines PublishedBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 7, 2011

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has approved guidelines to assist veterinarians and horse owners in making decisions about ending the life of an old, injured, or sick horse. The AAEP's recommendations were designed with the health and well-being of the horse as the most important concerns.

Several of the guidelines focus on conditions that the horse should not have to endure: continuous or unmanageable pain from a chronic, incurable condition; an untreatable health condition that makes it a danger to itself or its handlers; or a chronic condition that necessitates lifelong stall confinement for prevention or relief of unmanageable pain and suffering. The guidelines state that a horse's owner has sole responsibility for the horse's care, and this person has the right to request euthanasia at any time for any reason. Each case will be slightly different, and must be evaluated as to the parameters for that unique situation.

Euthanasia for horses that are healthy but are unwanted or unadoptable is also considered in the guidelines. The AAEP accepts that humane euthanasia is acceptable if all other alternatives have been explored. In accord with the veterinarian's role as an advocate for the animal, no horse should have to endure conditions in which a lack of feed or care would negatively impact the animal's quality of life.

Options for humane methods of euthanasia, to be performed by a properly trained person, include gunshot or captive bolt to the brain and intravenous administration of a lethal substance. These options are seen as the best choices to minimize fear and pain for the horse.

Before considering euthanasia, horse owners need to be certain of the terms of any insurance policies that relate to coverage or payment following death.

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