Change or End of Career

Horses, donkeys and mules can have multiple careers in their working lives. Responsible ownership includes making decisions for equines that are no longer able to carry out the work desired of them as a result of age, injury or illness.

Change or End of Career Options

Options include:

retire completely

transition to a lower performance level or easier job on the farm

use as a companion to another horse, donkey or mule

sell to a new owner or consign to a quality or specialized horse sale

donate to a reputable facility such as a university

arrange for euthanasia

arrange for humane slaughter.

Select an option based on the horse's physical condition, soundness, temperament, demeanor, socialization (with both humans and horses), and tractability Euthanasia or humane slaughter are legitimate considerations and may be the desired or required course of action depending on the condition or the horse and availability of other options. Before choosing humane slaughter as an option, the rigours of transport to a slaughter facility must be considered. Appropriate withdrawal periods for medications must also be observed. Refer also to Section 8-Transportation and Section 10-Euthanasia. For information on drug withdrawal periods, consult a veterinarian or the Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures (Appendix K provides a reference to this manual).

Sale by private treaty enables the seller to learn more about the buyer, their facilities and intended use for the horse. Sellers may wish to restrict the activity the horse is transitioned into, particularly when the horse is deemed unfit for certain work or athletic expectation. Refer to Appendix 'K' Resources for Further Information.


The welfare of the horse must be of paramount importance when making change or end of career decisions.


a. get a specific diagnosis of the horse's condition - this is the best way to identify acceptable uses for the horse and future care needs

b. ensure the horse is transitioned to a responsible caregiver (e.g. perform a site visit, request references).


Owners and managers are responsible for euthanasia decisions, and these decisions should never be made without careful consideration. Horses, donkeys and mules serve their owners in many was and deserve an end of life that is humane. Euthanasia can be performed on farm or at an appropriate off-farm facility.

When caring for a sick or injured horse, consult a veterinarian to determine when to stop treatment and instead euthanize, taking the following into account:

what is the likelihood of recovery or return to an acceptable quality of life? 

how long should the animal be given to recover? has the horse become depressed or lethargic?

what kind of special care will the animal require and are you able to meet those needs in terms of your skill level, time, and available facilities?

do you have the financial resources to continue to provide for the animal?     

have the chances of recovery improved or declined over the course of treatment?


     work with a veterinarian to develop a plan for euthanasia. The written plan should be kept in a known location and include:

the name, and, if applicable, contact information of the person(s) responsible for making euthanasia decisions on farm and the person responsible for performing the procedure

a schedule for proper maintenance of any equipment

the protocols for disposal, in accordance with provincial 

and/or municipal regulations discuss euthanasia with a 

veterinarian when the horse:

is enduring continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable

has a medical condition that has a grave prognosis without surgery, and, surgery is unavailable or unaffordable

possesses dangerous behavioural traits that renders it a hazard to itself, other horses or handlers

is suffering from a severe, traumatic injury (e.g. broken leg or wound significantly impacting a major organ, muscle or skeletal system)

has a disease or condition and the cost of treatment is prohibitive

has a transmittable disease, which is a serious health hazard to 

other horses or humans 

when you are unable to care for the horse and cannot find it a 

suitable new home.

Timelines for Euthanasia

A key component of euthanasia is timeliness. It is not acceptable to delay euthanasia for reasons of convenience or cost. When euthanasia is deemed necessary, it must be performed without delay, particularly in the case of a severe, traumatic injury. Leaving a suffering animal to die of natural causes (what is known as "letting nature take its course") is not acceptable.


Equines that are sick, injured, or in pain must receive appropriate treatment without delay or be euthanized without delay.

For sick, injured or compromised horses that are not showing improvement, horse owners or caregivers must, without delay, obtain veterinary advice on appropriate care and treatment or make arrangements for euthanasia.



The euthanasia method used must be quick, cause minimal pain and distress, and render the horse immediately unconscious. The following are the only acceptable methods for euthanasia of equines: 

lethal injection administered by a veterinarian 

free bullet deployed by a skilled individual

penetrating captive bolt deployed by a skilled individual (depending on 

the model used, a secondary step will be required). Appendix I 

provide important further guidelines.

   REQUIREMENTS An acceptable method of euthanasia must be used.

Euthanasia must be performed by persons knowledgeable in the method used for equines. Disposal must be in accordance with provincial and municipal regulations.


a. when choosing a method of euthanasia consider the medical   condition of the horse being euthanized ability to restrain the animal

human safety and the safety of other animals 

disposal options    

potential need for sample collection for diagnostic testing

the emotional comfort with the procedure for the owner, the person performing euthanasia and any bystanders

b. consider disposal options well in advance as they may impact on 

the method and location for euthanasia. Refer to the 

relevant provincial and/or municipal regulations.

Confirmation of Death

In order to achieve a humane death, the horse must be rendered immediately unconscious and must go on to die without regaining consciousness. Death does not occur immediately-it may take several minutes.

Reflex motor activity or muscle spasms may follow the loss of consciousness and should not be mistaken as an indication of pain or distress. Following the use of the captive bolt or gunshot, the initial involuntary movements should not begin immediately, but approximately 5-20 seconds later. If lethal injection is used, there may be variable amounts of movement associated with deepening anesthesia.

There are several reasons why a secondary step may be needed. In some cases, the euthanasia tool may only be capable of temporarily stunning the animal; therefore, a secondary step is required to euthanize the animal. A secondary step is always required if the first step fails. Appendix J-Technical Guidelines for Euthanasia Methods provides important information on acceptable secondary steps.

An animal has not been rendered unconscious if the animal:


attempts to rise

lifts its head

blinks like an alive animal

responds to a painful stimulus.

Use multiple indicators to confirm death:

absence of all movement for at least five minutes

absence of a heartbeat and pulse for at least five minutes

lack of breathing for at least five minutes

fixed, dilated pupil

absence of all reflexes including the corneal reflex (i.e. no blinking when the eyeball is touched).



Confirm unconsciousness immediately when it is safe to do so.  Have a secondary euthanasia step or method available. Confirm death before moving or leaving the animal.


Technical Guidelines for Euthanasia Methods

Important Safety Guidelines

Be aware that if euthanizing a standing horse by gunshot, the horse may lunge forward or rear up when shot.

If euthanizing a horse by gunshot, the bullet may ricochet or pass through the horse. Therefore, it is very important to ensure no person or other animal is within range.

Guidelines for Euthanizing a Horse by Free Bullet

It is imperative to use a sufficiently powered firearm. For horses heavier than 180kg (4001b) select a gun that provides a minimum of 1,000 ft lbs of muzzle energy. This information can be found on the box of the ammunition used with your firearm. Most handguns are NOT sufficient. 

    A .22 calibre gun may not be a sufficiendy powered firearm for horses. 

    Appropriate options for horses include the 20,16 and 12 gauge shotgun. Slugs are the best choice, No. 4, 5, or 6 birdshot is ONLY acceptable for close-range. 

Guidelines for Euthanizing a Horse by Penetrating Captive Bolt Gun

It is imperative to use a penetrating captive bolt gun that is designed to euthanize horses and is the correct caliber. Some models are NOT designed to euthanize a horse - they merely stun the horse and a secondary step is requited. There are captive bolt guns on the market now designed specifically for euthanasia on farm. A .25 calibre with an extended bolt is the most effective captive bolt gun for single-step euthanasia. If a less powerful captive bolt gun is used, there is a risk that the horse may only be temporarily stunned and a secondary method will be required. 

Proper maintenance in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions is also essential.

Secondary Steps

Acceptable secondary steps include: a second shot by free bullet or penetrating captive bolt and a second injection (administered by a veterinarian). Cardiac puncture, bleeding, and pithing (insertion of a rod into the hole created by the captive bolt and agitation of the rod to destroy the brain) are acceptable secondary steps ONLY if the animal is confirmed unconscious. If using a penetrating captive bolt gun, the requirement for a secondary step depends on the model used.

Secondary steps performed on an unconscious animal should be performed within 30 seconds of the first step (with the exception of a second injection, which is at the discretion of the veterinarian).