Our horses are living longer, healthier lives, thanks to advances in equine medicine and nutrition. Nonetheless, most horse owners ultimately find themselves taking a long, hard look at their aging horses, assessing quality of life, and making difficult decisions about euthanasia. Researchers have examined the top reasons for death and euthanasia in older horses, shedding light for the first time on what medical conditions actually cause death or necessitate euthanasia in aged equines.

"Previous studies have suggested that one of the most common reasons that horse owners choose to have their geriatric horses, which are those over 15 years of age, euthanized is due to ‘old age,’" said Joanne Ireland, BVMS, MRCVS, a research assistant at the University of Liverpool in England.

However, because "old age" is not a specific cause of death, Ireland and colleagues launched this retrospective study–the first examining medical causes of death in senior horses–which involved surveying owners of geriatric horses.

Key findings of the study were:

  • Complete data was collected on 118 horses that had died or were euthanized, of which the majority (94%) were euthanized;
  • The most common reasons for euthanasia were lameness (24%) and colic (21%);
  • An association between an increasing number of owner-reported clinical signs that limited normal daily activities and increased risk of mortality was observed;
  • Veterinary advice was important in owner decision-making regarding euthanasia of cases of colic or other acute illnesses, while poor quality of life was considered an im