Euthanasia of a horse

In our latest veterinary feature from Sussex Equine Hospital, vet Sarah Davidson MRCVS writes about euthanasia of a horse.

Sarah Davidson MRCVS, Veterinary Associate at Sussex Equine Hospital

Euthanasia, a topic above any other that instills fear into many a horse owner, is also referred to as a horse or pet being ‘put to sleep’ or ‘put down’.

The word ‘euthanasia’ itself is derived from Greek and means ‘a good death’ but, in the opinion of most vets, it is a gift that means we can alleviate the suffering before it gets too much, take away that heartache of watching an animal’s quality of life diminish and minimise the amount of pain experienced.

It is, however, something that all equine or pet owners will have to deal with at some point and, while it’s not possible to fully prepare for the pain resulting from the loss of a much-loved animal, giving it due consideration in advance can make a big difference to how you feel if it happens to you.

This article is largely referring to the euthanasia of horses, but can be transferred in many places to any animal. The need for a horse to be euthanased falls into two broad categories:

1) In an emergency situation, for example, a bad colic episode or a catastrophic fracture where the prognosis for survival is grave and/or, despite treatment, pain cannot be alleviated.

2) The horse is struggling getting by day to day. Maybe he/she cannot stand easily after rolling or is losing weight despite good feeding (a common problem in older horses). This can be more difficult as owners often find it hard to pick a day when the balance of quality of life tips from good to poor. For most, it comes down to a gut feeling
It’s a difficult subject to read about and, indeed, some may not be able to, stopping at the first paragraph above, but educating oneself with the answers to the following questions will help to prepare you, if you find yourself in this situation:• How will euthanasia be performed?

A huntsman, what is sometimes called a ‘knackerman’ or a vet can use a gun, but they must have a licence. However, finding a suitable place to use a gun can be tricky as there are many unpredictable factors.

The muzzle of the gun is simply placed on the horse’s forehead and a bullet fired into the brain. Death is instantaneous and the horse will fall to the ground. Some bleeding can be expected from the bullet hole and the nostrils and then twitching of the limbs may be seen. These are distressing, but entirely normal, reflexes.

The most common method of euthanasing a horse, however, is lethal injection, and only a vet can perform one. Due to the nature of the drug used in lethal injections, the horse’s body must then be cremated. It will be administered a sedative to calm it, followed by a lethal overdose of anaesthetic.

Most horses remain standing for up to a minute and take a few deep breaths, but as they fall, they will experience a loss of consciousness and, therefore, know nothing about it. Once down, the heart will stop beating. Again, the limbs will twitch and a few more deep breaths may be seen.

• Where will your horse be put to sleep?                                                                            If it is an emergency situation, this is a factor that is less easily controlled but, generally speaking, good road access is essential, a soft, straw-filled or cushioned landing and a little bit of space is preferable. Familiar surroundings are also best as the horse is likely to remain more relaxed. If it’s the case that one of a pair of bonded horses has to be euthanased by lethal injection, there is evidence that a short period where the companion can approach and register that their friend is dead can minimise distress to the horse left behind.

• When will your horse be put to sleep?
In an emergency situation, when your horse will be put to sleep is unfortunately a decision taken out of your hands. However, if it is an elective euthanasia, there are lots of things to take into consideration. If it’s at a livery yard, when is it quietest? If at home, do you want family to be present or not? Will you need a few days away from work to come to terms with it: for example, a Friday before a weekend? Will you need a friend to offer support and, if so, when are they available? Will there be any family members or friends who would like to say goodbye? Will you want to spend one-on-one time with your horse beforehand. All things to consider carefully, so if that day ever occurs, you won’t have to agonise or make rushed choices.

• What would you like to happen afterwards?
Most owners will have their horse cremated but, whether you would like your horse’s ashes back (unfortunately at extra cost) is important. Burial is also possible, as is the donation of the body to the hunt, after going through much regulation and discussion with DEFRA and also provided it has not been lethally injected.

• Do you want to be present?
This is a completely personal decision and there is no right or wrong answer. You should discuss with friends and family, your vet or the yard owner if you are unsure. Horses are large animals and, to be brutal, rarely fall to the ground gracefully, so it’s ok to make yourself scarce if you do not wish for this to be your last memory of them. Nevertheless, if you feel brave enough to stand with them while the vet prepares everything, do so. It may be difficult, but you are unlikely regret it.

• Do you want anything to remember them by?
Owner’s will often choose to keep a shoe, a lock of hair from mane or tail or something else that they will remember their horse by. There are many companies around now who make horse hair into jewellery which can prove to be a lasting memento.

• Is your horse insured?
Depending on what level of insurance cover you have, you may be eligible for a pay-out. However, it is often the case that certain criteria have to be met. If putting your horse to sleep is planned, it is worth a phone call to ensure you have everything covered.

This list is comprehensive, but my no means exhaustive. Each individual case will carry different challenges. The most important things to note are that you must never leave a question unasked. It may feel far too difficult to put the words together at the end, but asking questions is a great way to ensure closure. It is such an emotionally sad time, which unfortunately most of us will experience at some point but, remember that no one is there to judge. It’s perfectly natural to be extremely upset.

One very important point to end on is that if you are struggling following the death of your horse, do reach out and ask for support. Your vet can be a source of comfort, but if you are really struggling, try The British Horse Society’s friendsattheend@bhs.org.uk.

Pets At Home supports Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare charity

Former racehorse Galizzi greeted two very special visitors to Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre at Slinfold, West Sussex when they presented centre manager Mary Frances with a cheque for £15,000 to support this very special West Sussex charity.

Moorcroft is dedicated to retraining ex-racehorses so they can go on to lead active and happy lives when their racing days are over. Under Mary’s expertise, assisted by her staff, this outstanding centre plays a vital role in ensuring the horses are individually rehabilitated for a new life outside racing.

Galizzi, a seven-year-old bred by Darley, and originally trained by J Rainier raced mainly in France, before coming to England, where he raced for Tim Vaughan at Ascot and Epsom.

Moorcroft chief executive Mary Frances with Pets at Home store manager Anita Charman and assistant manager Lucy Lempriere and  Moorcroft’s head girl Lianne Bird far right.

Mary said : “He has settled in well at Moorcroft. He is a lovely horse and his retraining is developing well. We are extremely grateful for this financial boost from Pets at Home, which will help us continue our vital retraining work with ex-racehorses so they can go on to lead active lives in the future.”

The money donated by Pets At Home branch in Horsham was  from its Support Adoption for Pets, an independent charity established by Pets at Home in 2006.

Since then it has helped more than 1,000 re-homing centres and animal welfare organisations across the UK. In addition to its fundraising work, it also runs an adoption centre in more than 440 Pets At Home stores.

Both store manager Anita Charman and fundraising manager Amy Wilson own horses and ride regularly.

Anita said: “It was an honour to be able to present Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre with a cheque for £15,000 on behalf of Support Adoption for Pets. Seeing the amazing work that the charity carries out on a regular basis is a real inspiration and we are delighted this money will go towards helping make the lives of the horses in their care better.”

Amy commented:” It is a real privilege to help an organisation that works so hard to rehabilitate race horses. The team at Moorcroft Racehorse Welfare Centre is doing a superb job and the effort it puts in is an inspiration.

” We wish the team all the best for 2019 and look forward to hearing how this grant helps horses in their care.”

 

 

 

 

Equines and their riders ‘vulnerable road users’

The British Horse Society (BHS) and UK Road Offender Education (UKROEd) are delighted that equines and equestrians will now be identified as vulnerable road users in National Driver Offender Retraining Schemes (NDORS).

The announcement follows a year-long collaborative effort between the two groups to ensure the safety needs of equestrians are highlighted within the retraining courses and drivers are educated on how to pass horses responsibly on the road.

Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety for The British Horse Society said: “The British Horse Society has been working with NDORS for some time now and as a direct result of these conversations, NDORS will be including horse riders as vulnerable road users within all of their courses, including the Speed Awareness Course.

Horse Riders Warning sign

“This is a really positive step forward for the safety of horses on the road and another example of how the BHS is well placed and connected to major stakeholders in the road safety community. This inclusion not only directs our safety messaging to a key audience but will instill confidence in many equestrians across the country who often fear they are the forgotten vulnerable road user”.

Ruth Purdie, Chief Operating Office for UKROEd said: “UKROEd who are the providers of the NDORS courses can confirm that every course mentions the requirement for safety when passing or considering vulnerable road users groups.

“A key priority in the group is “horses and horse riders” and I can confirm that everyone attending a course will be reminded of their obligations under the Highway Code and the specific laws covering their actions in relation to this vulnerable group of riders and animals.”

NDORS offer a range of courses which aim to cover most low level moving traffic offences. The scheme is operated across the country on behalf of the police service who outline the type of offender and the offence(s).

The inclusion of equines and equestrians as vulnerable road users within the courses provide a platform to promote the BHS’s ‘Dead Slow’ road safety campaign messages. The charity launched the campaign in 2016 to educate drivers on how to safely approach horses and riders using the roads.

The four Dead Slow behaviour change messages for drivers are: if I see a horse on the road, then I will…

1. Slow down to a maximum of 15mph

2. Be patient; I won’t sound my horn or rev my engine

3. Pass wide and slow (at least a car’s width)

4. Drive slowly away

WHW’s tireless work for equines

World Horse Welfare is an international horse charity that improves the lives of horses in the UK and worldwide through education, campaigning and hands-on care of horses.

Since it was founded in 1927, its whole approach has been practical, based on scientific evidence and its own extensive experience – and it is  focused on delivering lasting change across the full spectrum of the horse world.

In the UK, WHW has a dedicated network of Field Officers to investigate and resolve welfare problems, and it runs four Rescue and Rehoming Centres where horses in need can receive specialist care, undergo rehabilitation and find loving new homes through its rehoming scheme – the largest of its kind in the UK.

Bailey, a 12.1hh pony is one example of an equine taken in by the charity. She will make an excellent companion.

Bailey will make an excellent companion pony   Photo: World Horse Welfare

Bailey came to Hall Farm with three other ponies in August 2013 following a successful prosecution.  Bailey gets on well with others in her herd and although she can be bossy, she is not a nasty pony.

She is as bright as a button and very intelligent. Also, she is a curious pony with a keen mind and very quick to learn. She will need a firm handler with a regular and consistent routine to maintain her manners.

Apart from taking in and retraining equines for successful rehoming WHW also works tirelessly to change legislation and attitudes to horse welfare through campaigns and education, including its  campaign to end the suffering endured by the tens of thousands of horses transported long-distance across Europe to slaughter each year.

It supports the responsible use of horses in sport, and is independent welfare adviser to the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

If you are concerned for the welfare of a horse please call its Welfare Line in confidence  on- 08000 480 180.

 

 

 

 

WHW chief executive thanks all for 2018 support

Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare, has thanked everyone who supported this worthy charity during 2018.

This enabled WHW to continue successfully with its outstanding work in rehoming needy equines of all breeds and ages.

Roly Owers pictured with a horse ready to be rehomed by World Horse Welfare Charity    Photo:WHW

He said :”From extreme weather conditions in both the UK and further afield putting huge pressure on our resources to the uncertainty around Brexit – 2018 has certainly been a challenging year for equine welfare.

“However, it has also been a positive one with almost 300 horses finding new homes on our rehoming scheme and new legislation which better protects our equine population.

“On behalf of everyone here at World Horse Welfare, we would like to say thank you for supporting the charity in 2018 whether through donating, adding your voice to our campaigns, reporting concerns to our welfare line, rehoming a horse and much more.

“You are vital in helping us reach as many horses in need as possible and we look forward to continuing our work with you in 2019 as we experience ever more of these changing times.”

World Horse Welfare is an international horse charity that improves the lives of horses in the UK and worldwide through education, campaigning and hands-on care of horses. Since it was founded in 1927, its whole approach has been practical, based on scientific evidence and our extensive experience, and focused on delivering lasting change across the full spectrum of the horse world.

To see how you can help visit: https://www.facebook.com/WorldHorseWelfare/

Does your horse whistle while it works?

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR HORSE WHISTLES WHILE IT WORKS?

SAVE THE DATE! This is the theme of the next Tour & Talk Sussex Equine Hospital is running on January 15 2019 at the hospital premises on the outskirts of Ashington.

Three of its well-renowned vets take the floor to share their insights on overground endoscopy, throat surgery and other standing surgical procedures, all in the lecture room upstairs and all aimed at sharing valuable knowledge.

Start time is 7pm, but tours of the hospital begin at 6.15pm. Put your name down by calling 01903 883050. TICKETS ARE FREE!

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Worming and resistance to wormers

This  feature about worming has been written by Dr. S. Davidson, BVMS, MRCVS, Sussex Equine Hospital

Sarah Davidson, Veterinary Associate, Sussex Equine Hospital

There is regularly talk in the news about antibiotic resistance, how it affects us now and how it will affect us in the not-so-distant future.

The veterinary world is currently experiencing a similar problem regarding wormers and it’s called anthelmintic resistance. Resistance to wormers comes about when there are a large number of worms in any one horse’s intestines. A chance mutation occurs in the genetic makeup of one of those worms making it able to survive the the specific worming drug used.

This worm then has offspring that also carry the new gene and, therefore, the ability to survive worming treatment. Very quickly, the horse has a resistant population of worms.

The lifecycle of a worm involves time spent in a host animal and also on the pasture, so when these resistant worms are passed by the horse on to the pasture, its field mates are at risk of becoming burdened with resistant worms and the problem spreads.

The issue we are facing now is a result of many years of poor worming protocols:

  • Using the same wormer each time.
  • Blanket treatment of all horses. There is a common phrase that 20% of horses will carry 80 per cent of the total worm population, this means that not all horses need treatment all the time.
  • Not following the manufacturers’ recommendations, most commonly worming more frequently than necessary which increases the rate of selection of resistant worms, but also under-dosing.
  • Not using the right wormer for the particular worm likely to be present in the horse at that time.
  • Not taking into consideration the age of the horse, as horses get older they develop a degree of immunity to intestinal parasites. Younger horses need a higher level of care and attention.
  • Roundworms in horses

All these things considered, there are new ways of thinking that can help to minimise the spread of resistance and keep your horse’s worm burden under control at the same time. If you keep your horse on a livery yard, there may already be protocols in place, but if not, it might be worth a discussion because treating a whole herd with resistance in mind is a much more effective way to tackle the problem than each horse having a slightly different management plan.

  1. Collect faecal samples, keep them cool to prevent eggs hatching which will skew the result and submit them to a lab for worm egg counts (number of eggs per gram of faeces). The lab should also specify the type of eggs present and their distribution.
  2. Based on the number of eggs reported, a decision must then be made as to whether the horse is wormed or not. Sources vary but a suggested cut off is 200 eggs per gram. Any horse with a burden above this should be treated.
  3. Treatment should be influenced by the species of egg identified.
  4. It is then possible for those that wish to be extra-vigilant to work out whether resistance is a problem in their horse. A faecal sample can be taken two weeks later and again submitted to a lab. If the wormer has been effective, the number of eggs per gram should have decreased by 90%. If you have not seen a satisfactory result, worm with a different drug to target those worms that were not killed off by the first treatment.

On top of combating resistance, taking faecal samples instead of blanket treating all horses regularly can save a considerable amount of money.

An ideal plan for timing of faecal samples is to begin in spring and treat according to results. If you have not had to treat your horse, take another faecal sample three months later and so on. If you have treated your horse, ideally take the second sample two weeks later, but otherwise wait six months until autumn to take another sample.

A point to note here is that worm egg counts do not take into consideration tapeworms, due to their lifecycle. To test for tapeworm, a blood sample should be collected and submitted to a lab to look at antibodies and again, depending on the result, a decision is made whether to treat or not.

Good pasture hygiene remains very important in the control of worms, poo-picking to minimise pasture contamination, rotation between species, for example, cattle and or sheep and rotation of fields, if possible, will all help. If new horses are coming onto a yard, checking and treating them before they are turned out on to pasture is ideal, but understandably not always practical.

It is worth bearing in mind that the above is in relation to adult horses that are in good health and body condition. If you suspect that a horse in your care has a high worm burden, discuss an appropriate plan with your vet as a rapid kill of worms can cause your horse to become sick or even be fatal.

Foals have a different susceptibility to worms and should also be wormed with a careful programme. Foals are susceptible to ascarid worms which are thick, white worms that can be up to 15 inches in length. Adults have an inherent immunity.

Ascarids can block the intestines completely and, if killed all at once can cause diarrhoea, low protein and more seriously telescoping (scientifically termed ‘intussusception’) of the intestines and death.

Management of intestinal parasites is as important now as it ever has been. While most horses will live out their days without worms causing them a problem, it has been clearly demonstrated that an uncontrolled worm burden increases the risk of colic, diarrhoea and un-thriftiness in horses.

If we cannot combat worms with the drugs that we currently have due to resistance, these are problems that we are going to see more commonly in the future as there are very few or no new drugs being developed.

 

Victoria is BEF’s new performance director

The British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is pleased to announce that Victoria Underwood has been appointed as the new Performance Director for the UK Sport National Lottery-funded equestrian World Class Programme.

Victoria re-joins the BEF after working as the Head of World Class Development between 2001 and 2009. Most recently she has operated as the Director of Athlete Performance Support for High Performance Sport New Zealand which leads the country’s high performance sports system, working in partnership with its national sporting organisations.

Victoria Underwood

She said; “I am delighted to accept this prominent position to orchestrate the equestrian high performance teams through to the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020, and beyond to Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028. The great success that Team GBR has had to date needs to be sustained and built upon to ensure that UK Sport continue their incredible support for our sport through future cycles.”

Chief Executive of the BEF, Nick Fellows said: “We are thrilled to welcome Vikki back to the BEF. Having worked in high performance sport for 18 years with a number of sports, including equestrianism, Vikki has a wealth of knowledge and a strong strategic mind-set which will aid the successful development and delivery of a performance-focused World Class Programme.

“Her significant leadership experience and success in previous roles will make her a valuable addition to a high quality performance team as we continue on our journey to Tokyo and beyond.”

From 2009 to 2015 Victoria led the Performance Operations team at the English Institute for Sport for the East Midlands, delivering support to athletes’ from over 40 sports. She then joined Loughborough University where she headed up their Sport Science and Medicine for Performance Sport team, leading a complete reform of their performance services and establishing practitioner development pathways linked with National Governing Bodies for sport.

She also played important roles with the British Olympic Association and the London organising committee for the Olympic Games, in and around London 2012.

As Performance Director, Vikki will lead and direct the BEF’s vision to nurture a winning environment and ensure that Great Britain maintains the most advanced performance programme in the world. Working in partnership with British Dressage, British Eventing and British Showjumping, she will oversee the management of athletes and horses, while supporting their owners, and develop emerging talent through identifiable pathways to ensure a rich pipeline for the future.

She will take up her post on 24 2019 and will be working with a team of world-leading coaches, practitioners and support staff who will continue their work towards making Great Britain the leading equestrian nation on and off the field of play.

WHW’s adopt a horse scheme

World Horse Welfare has a scheme which enables supporters to help equines in its care by adopting one of them.

The Adopt a Horse scheme gives you the opportunity to help a horse or pony at one of its four UK Rescue and Rehoming Centres.

Support World Horse Welfare’s Adopt a horse or pony scheme.
Photo:WHW

Each horse has its own story and the Adopt a Horse scheme gives you the opportunity to closely follow the progress back to health and a new life. Simply select the horse you would like to adopt and you will receive:

  • A pack about your chosen horse that includes: a film on DVD; a board-backed colour photo; pin badge; set of notecards; and recent updates written by the grooms and centre manager
  • Four exclusive updates each year that give a unique insight into your adopted horse’s progress, with notes and photographs from the team at the farm.
  • The chance to visit your adopted horse during centre open days.

Adopting a horse costs just £5.00 a month and is great way to help give a horse the second chance in life it deserves.

For more details about the scheme contact www.worldhorsewelfare.org/adopt

Horse safety on our roads

The British Horse Society (BHS) and UK Road Offender Education (UKROEd) are delighted to reveal that equines and equestrians will now be identified as vulnerable road users in National Driver Offender Retraining Schemes (NDORS).

The announcement follows a yearlong collaborative effort between the two groups to ensure the safety needs of equestrians are highlighted within the retraining courses and drivers are educated on how to pass horses responsibly on the road.

Alan Hiscox, Director of Safety for The British Horse Society said: “The British Horse Society has been working with NDORS for some time now and as a direct result of these conversations, NDORS will be including horse riders as vulnerable road users within all of their courses, including the Speed Awareness Course.

Horse safety in traffic
Photo: Sussex Safer Roads

“This is a really positive step forward for the safety of horses on the road and another example of how the BHS is well placed and connected to major stakeholders in the road safety community. This inclusion not only directs our safety messaging to a key audience but will instill confidence in many equestrians across the country who often fear they are the forgotten vulnerable road user”.

Ruth Purdie, Chief Operating Office for UKROEd said: “UKROEd who are the providers of the NDORS courses can confirm that every course mentions the requirement for safety when passing or considering vulnerable road users groups.

“A key priority in the group is “horses and horse riders” and I can confirm that everyone attending a course will be reminded of their obligations under the Highway Code and the specific laws covering their actions in relation to this vulnerable group of riders and animals.”

NDORS offer a range of courses which aim to cover most low level moving traffic offences. The scheme is operated across the country on behalf of the police service who outline the type of offender and the offence(s).

The inclusion of equines and equestrians as vulnerable road users within the courses provide a platform to promote the BHS’s ‘Dead Slow’ road safety campaign messages. The charity launched the campaign in 2016 to educate drivers on how to safely approach horses and riders using the roads.

The four Dead Slow behaviour change messages for drivers are: if I see a horse on the road, then I will…

1. Slow down to a maximum of 15mph

2. Be patient; I won’t sound my horn or rev my engine

3. Pass wide and slow (at least a car’s width)

4. Drive slowly away