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Facts About Euthanasia (Large Animals)

horseUnfortunately, treating catastrophic disorders in large animals, because of their size, can be an expensive, lengthy process. Some conditions such as long bone fractures are not readily treated because of the confinement requirements, potential for infection, and problems that can develop in other limbs.

If it is economically impossible or impractical to consider treatment, this should not be a source of guilt or worry. For an abdominal crisis, it may be appropriate to perform an exploration of the abdomen to determine the severity of the problem before deciding whether to continue. Regardless, if euthanasia is indicated, the pharmaceuticals that are available ensure that it is a quick, painless procedure.

An intravenous catheter is placed by the veterinarian for delivery of drugs which will euthanize the animal. Some veterinarians prefer to use a butterfly catheter, which is a small needle attached to tubing to perform the procedure. The animal may or may not become ataxic (wobbly) upon delivery of the drug. The drugs will cause first anesthesia, or loss of consciousness, then a stopping of the breathing and the heartbeat.

Unfortunately, due to their large size, most large animals tend to drop somewhat suddenly after the drugs are given by the veterinarian. Veterinarians administering euthanasia to a horse or a cow will often find a quiet, grassy or straw-laden area in which to put the animal to sleep so that the initial fall is not so difficult to view. Frequently following euthanasia, muscle tremors and involuntary jerking take place. The owner may be disturbed by this but should understand that these are unconscious movements. The animal is actually unconscious (feels nothing) just before the initial fall.

Movement of the recumbent large animal after euthanasia can be difficult, so it may be helpful to perform this close to the place the owner has chosen to lay the animal to rest.

If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please contact your local veterinarian. He or she should be happy to provide the answers for you. Or, please call us at the hotline number.

- Dr. Susan Fubini, DVM