It’s incredibly difficult to know when it’s time to put your horse to sleep. Here with some advice is vet Gil Riley.

Saying goodbye will never be an easy decision to make, but it may be useful to know that few horses die naturally without suffering.

Euthanasia will ensure a pain-free death, but knowing when to make that decision is a worry for all owners.

The best advice I can give is that your horse will most likely ‘tell’ you when it’s time. Some important indicators that may highlight when the end is drawing near are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Chronic weight loss
  • Difficulty to move and/or get up after lying down

Remember, you’re not on your own – if your concerned about your horse, you should contact your vet and they’ll be able to advise whether treatment can be attempted, or if putting him to sleep would be more appropriate for him.

While this may be the very first time you’re in this position, your vet will have been here many times before with other owners, so their advice will be based on a lot of experience.

What are the options?

As far as the act of euthanasia is concerned, there are two options available – shooting or lethal injection.

The use of a gun survived for so long in horse practice as the injections were simply not reliable.

It’s a great relief to vets that for almost 20 years now, we’ve had an injectable product that’s proven extremely consistent at providing a dignified and peaceful end for our patients.

I always say to my client if they’re unsure whether the act will be humane then I’d ask for them to stay and watch – I don’t think any of them have been disappointed with how it was handled.

One thing that’s useful to think about in advance is organising what will happen to your horse’s body afterwards and handling the passport and insurance issues.

If prior arrangements have already been made, it will make it easier for you when the time comes.

How to cope

There are courses that you can attend if you want to discuss your options, or if you’re struggling with the grief when your horse has passed.

Going to these will enable you to talk about your feelings with people who are going through the same process.

XL Equine runs an ‘old friends’ workshop (