End-of-Life for Working Equids

This document discusses end-of-life considerations for working equids. End-of-life decision making is the process of judging how best to proceed at a time in an animal’s life when quality of life is in question and/or irreversible relief of suffering must be considered. Abandonment of no-longer-wanted working equids must be prevented and discouraged.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD END OF LIFE DECISION-MAKING

Good end of life decision-making is critical for all working equids, to safeguard their welfare at times when their value as working animals is deemed to have lessened, and/or their quality of life is significantly and/or irreversibly impaired.

Such decisions for working equids must be based on an assessment of multiple factors.

Include consideration of issues such as:

  • What specific working task(s) these equids conduct; whether the animal(s) might undertake other tasks and still have a ‘good quality of life’;
  • The equid species and type concerned: horse, pony, donkey, mule, hinny;
  • The animal(s)’ age, gender, and pregnancy status;
  • The extent and nature of any pain, disease, or injuries as well as viable treatment options;
  • Prognosis and potential quality of life after treatment;
  • The ability of the owner/keeper to provide (including access and pay for) appropriate treatment and ongoing care;
  • The owners’ ability to meet the welfare needs of an animal who is no longer able to perform specified working duties;
  • The owners’ willingness to plan for when their animal is no longer able to work;
  • Risks following abandonment including suffering for the animal(s) themselves, threats to public health e.g from road traffic accidents and environmental contamination e.g. via carcasses;
  • Any negative impact on companions (animal or human) or other in-contact animals; and
  • The need for informed consent (for treatment or euthanasia) by owners/keepers or other legal authority to proceed in its absence.
  • The availability of medication, equipment and suitably skilled personnel to perform euthanasia compassionately.
Donkey Companions: special consideration should be given to the issue of bonded companions in the case of donkeys.

WHAT AFFECTS GOOD END-OF-LIFE DECISION-MAKING?

End points may serve as a useful guide to decision-making, the following is a non-exhaustive list for decision-makers to consider:

  1. Equids with progressive or intractable disease exhibiting welfare-compromising clinical signs despite appropriate therapy.
  2. Severe dental disease having an adverse effect on welfare as indicated by ongoing pain, weight loss, colic, choke, quidding, excessive salivation, and/or adverse behavioural changes.
  3. Uncontrolled weight loss and/or lack of weight gain despite appropriate treatment and additional nutritional support being provided.
  4. Persistent pain, e.g. severe lameness non-responsive to appropriate therapy.
  5. Unable or unwilling to rise without assistance for an extended period of time or unwilling to lie down.
  6. Unreasonable and unmanageable threat to the health of in-contact humans or animals e.g. by way of serious contagious disease.
  7. Non-healing pressure sores indicative of chronic immobility.
  8. Dangerous behaviour not suitable for, or non-responsive to, behavioural training plans, making treatment and/or care unsafe for people and/or significantly stressful for the equid.
  9. Untreatable sarcoids, those in untreatable locations and sarcoids recurring after multiple attempts at treatment which negatively impact the animal’s welfare.
  10. Blind equids that are not coping in their environment, as indicated by reduced well-being (physical trauma, lack of social interaction, distress with human contact, abnormal feeding and sleeping patterns).
  11. An owner who is unable to ensure continued good welfare and there is a significant risk of abandonment.
Donkey Donkeys, especially if obese, are prone to suffering prolonged life-threatening clinical disease such as hyperlipaemia following the loss of a bonded companion

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WORKING EQUIDS CAN’T ACCESS APPROPRIATE END-OF-LIFE CARE INCLUDING EUTHANASIA?

All equines Prolonged pain and distress, such that they no longer experience a ‘life worth living’.
All equines Prolonged suffering, particularly when required to perform tasks they are no longer fit to undertake.

Increased risk of spread of contagious disease (if present) resulting in negative impacts on other equids and/or human livelihoods.

Risk of abandonment

HOW CAN WELFARE AT END-OF-LIFE BE ASSURED FOR INDIVIDUAL WORKING EQUIDS?

Through the empathetic provision of euthanasia. Euthanasia (‘good death’) is the act of inducing a death in a humane manner, that minimises pain, distress and anxiety to the animal:

  • in order to alleviate ongoing, and prevent future irreversible, suffering;
  • in cases of incurable disease, pain, or injury; or
  • in the face of major disease outbreaks when mandated by legislation.
All equines Euthanasia does not include the killing (or ‘slaughter’) of animals for the prime purpose of consumption or further processing – i.e. of their meat, skin or other parts.
HorsesDonkeys

PROVISION OF EUTHANASIA


  • Euthanasia methods considered humane are ones which rapidly, and with minimal pain or distress, render an animal unconscious and result in an irreversible death.
  • Carefully consider the health and safety of operators, bystanders, observers, and those involved with carcass disposal.
  • Pay due heed to local legal, cultural, and reputational considerations.
  • Death must be properly confirmed through an assessment of:
    1. Loss of key reflexes (e.g. corneal).
    2. Cessation of heartbeats
    3. Cessation of voluntary (limb) and involuntary (respiratory) movements
HorsesHorses

KEY FACTS: METHODS & DISPOSAL


Methods

  • Appropriate advice (e.g. from a local veterinarian) should be sought.
  • Killing using a bullet, properly applied to destroy key parts of the brain.
  • Killing using chemical agents, administered in sufficient doses intravenously, to sedate, anaesthetize where appropriate, and then induce an irreversible loss of consciousness. The use of respiratory paralysing agents alone is NOT an acceptable method of killing.
  • Killing using a captive bolt, properly applied to render the animal unconscious, to be immediately followed by pithing and/or exsanguination to cause death.
  • Severance of the aorta per rectum in an appropriately restrained and sedated or ideally anaesthetised animal.

Carcass disposal is a key cultural, health and environmental consideration:

  • All carcass disposal must be in accordance with local and national legislative requirements.
  • Consideration should be given to the environmental impacts of equine carcass disposal, in particular the potential for water-source contamination.
  • Carcasses from animal that have been injected with chemical agents must not be fed to other animals or to humans or left for consumption by wildlife.
  • Consider if additional biosecurity measures must be applied in the case of carcasses from animals suffering from a contagious disease.
All equines Surviving bonded companion(s) (especially if donkeys) should be allowed time with the carcass before removal to accommodate to their loss. They may vocalise highly and/or physically engage with a carcass as normal, species-appropriate behaviour.

Mares of all equid species should similarly be allowed time with the carcass of their foal to accommodate to the loss.
Info

WOAH Working Equids Chapter 7.12 Article 7.12.11, which refers to Chapters 7.5 and 7.6

Factsheets and publications. ICWE www.icweworkingequids.org

  1. Bell C., Rogers S. (2021) Attitudes of the Equestrian Public towards Equine End-of-Life Decisions. In: Animals, Vol 14;11(6):1776. doi: 10.3390/ani11061776. PMID: 34198636; PMCID: PMC8232243. Accessed 22/01/2024 at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8232243/pdf/animals-11-01776.pdf
  2. Cameron A, Pollock K, Wilson E, Burford J, England G, Freeman S. (2022) Scoping review of end-of-life decision-making models used in dogs, cats, and equids. In: Veterinary Record e1730. https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.1730. Accessed 22/01/2024 at: https://bvajournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/vetr.1730
  3. Kranenberg, L. (2021) FVE/ FEEVA Best Practice Protocol for Euthanasia of horses 2021, pp: 03.
  4. Long, Mariessa, Christian Dürnberger, Florien Jenner, Zsófia Kelemen, Ulrike Auer, and Herwig Grimm (2022). Quality of Life within Horse Welfare Assessment Tools: Informing Decisions for Chronically Ill and Geriatric Horses. In: Animals, Vol 12 (14): 1822. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12141822. Accessed 22/01/2024 at: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/12/14/1822