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Comments on the dilemma in the February issue: ‘Emergency exsanguination of working equids’
  1. Siobhan Mullan
  1. University of Bristol


The dilemma in the February issue dealt with tackling the subject of emergency euthanasia of equids, while working for an animal welfare charity in a remote community of a developing country. Though working equids in the region frequently experienced catastrophic injuries, there was no established tradition of euthanasia. Animals could experience lingering deaths and the only alternative would be emergency exsanguination (IP, February 2015, vol 37, pp 102-103). Glen Cousquer suggested that while the vet in this dilemma might at first experience shock at the seemingly unacceptable welfare standards, any attempt to impose, rather than negotiate, a solution could efface indigenous knowledge and discourage engagement. He recommended using education in a way that encouraged individuals to reflect on their work, proposing a community discussion about euthanasia so that members could explore different options. For instance, including community elders who routinely slaughtered cattle could provide an opportunity for learning and shared understanding of traditional techniques and equipment.

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THE discussion surrounding the euthanasia of working equids considered training in exsanguination via a throat cut. This month we have had three interesting letters suggesting the use of per rectal cutting of the dorsal artery to achieve exsanguination. Two graduates from the RVC in the 1960s still clearly remember the advice given to them:

‘We were imbued with a basic approach to the practicalities of a situation – none more so than by Mr R. Merlin, our anatomy lecturer, a gentleman of the “old” school . . . He assured us that an effective and cosmetically acceptable method of euthanasing a fallen equid (or other large animal) was to secrete a small sharp instrument into one's palm, introduce it per rectum and, feeling dorsally for the throbbing distal aorta, thrust upwards through the rectal wall and into the aorta, thus, effecting a catastrophic intra-abdominal haemorrhage.’ (Brian Cox)

‘. . . our animal husbandry lecturer (a retired calvary officer) . . . reminded us of a technique from the 1930s used in central London for cast horses amid traffic and onlookers. After placing a screen around the horse, one acquired a small penknife . . . performed a rectal and cut the dorsal artery and/or central vena cava with an upward and slight back and forward motion. The animal bled out quickly and calmly but no blood was evident outside the carcass to cause offence to passersby.’ (James McLaughlin)

However, only one contributor, Mariette Asselbergs, offered a view on this technique from experience, saying ‘It is less easy than it seems, but it leads to a quick death without any blood seen’. She also agreed with the suggestion made by Glen Cousquer of inviting elders who regularly cut the throats of ruminant livestock to discuss acceptable ways of euthanasing a terminal working equid.

That a majority of respondents to last month's poll favoured training people in a method with the best welfare outcome, despite the delay in uptake, could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps this was seen as the best way of ultimately producing the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’, if a long enough timeline was envisaged.Or from a different philosophical perspective, perhaps some people thought there was a threshold of welfare acceptability below which one shouldn't condone, or maybe that training in ‘poorer’ methods would be likely delay uptake of better methods.

Everyday Ethics Poll

Last month's online poll asked:

How would you deliver a course on equine welfare in a country where catastrophic events befall equids frequently but where there is no tradition of euthanasia?

Of those responding:

69 per cent voted to train them in a method of equine euthanasiathat will render the animal insensible immediately but which will have a lower chance of uptake in the short-term.

28 per cent per cent voted to train people in knife-based exsanguination, a practice with welfare consequences but a higher likelihood of uptake in the short-term.

3 per cent voted to not train people in the euthanasia of equids out of respect for their existing practices.

Vote for this month's online poll at:

Siobhan Mullan is research fellow at the University of Bristol with interests in practical welfare assessment and animal ethics. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.

Have you faced a dilemma that you would like considered in a future instalment of Everyday Ethics? If so, e-mail a brief outline to inpractice{at}

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