Three years of in-depth research into equid owners’ attitudes towards end-of-life matters will be revealed at this year’s BEVA Congress in conclusion to a study coordinated by Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) and supported by World Horse Welfare and The Donkey Sanctuary.
The research, which is the first of its kind in the UK, involved students from 13 institutions who collected data from 2,678 participants using a combination of depth interviews, focus groups and an online survey. Not only did the research set out to develop the knowledge-base in relation to why owners do or do not feel able to make equine end-of-life decisions and the thought process undergone to arrive at these, but it also looked to determine what additional information and support is required to help owners in making these essential decisions.
The research found that only one in eight UK equids die suddenly, which means that most owners will be faced with making an end of life decision at some stage; however, around two thirds of those who had not previously lost an equine did not have a plan in place. Furthermore, the research also revealed that end-of-life decisions are not just for older animals, with the number of equids who die aged 7-10 years being similar to those aged 26-30 years.
The key influence in owners’ end-of-life decisions was their own assessment of quality of life, but many felt they needed more support in doing so, with around half of owners wanting more information on this and so World Horse Welfare is now inviting vets to collaborate on a quality of life tool which will provide support for owners in assessing their individual equine.
Dr Georgina Crossman, Study Coordinator, Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence, said:
“It has been a very worthwhile exercise to ask for students to collect the responses following a carefully designed study put in place by Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (a committee of the British Equestrian Federation). The students did an amazing job gathering these data for this study and in doing that they also learned a lot about the challenges faced by horse owners which will help them in their careers. Thanks to the generosity of World Horse Welfare and The Donkey Sanctuary, we have been able to use the information collected to develop practical advice and tools to support horse owners make difficult decisions which in many cases is the ultimate kind gesture they can make for a much-loved friend.”
World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers MRCVS said:
“End of life is a difficult subject for both equid owners and their vets so this research is vital in helping us to better understand attitudes and the various factors which can influence the decisions of owners at the end of an equid’s life. Delayed death has long been a key welfare problem facing the UK’s equine population and in fact, was identified as one of four key challenges in the ‘Horses in our Hands’ research report compiled by the University of Bristol in July last year so this research is a positive step forward in helping tackle the issue.
“Our existing ‘Just in Case’ materials are available to help owners with information and planning around end of life matters, and we would urge visitors to BEVA Congress to come and pick up free copies for their clients or order them through the World Horse Welfare website. But this research has identified a real need to support owners in assessing quality of life and this is a project we look forward to developing with the Donkey Sanctuary over the coming months.”
Dr Faith Burden, Director of Research at The Donkey Sanctuary helped coordinate the research project to ensure donkeys and mules were fully represented in the study. She said:
“We were able to reach out to our network of donkey owners and practitioners to ask for their help examining attitudes to end-of-life issues. Euthanasia is an important final act in the care of any animal; it is always a painful decision but one that should be taken at the right time when their quality of life deteriorates. Assessing quality of life can be difficult, this is particularly true for donkeys who are stoic in nature and often hide signs of pain. The findings of this study will help us to better support donkey and mule owners dealing with difficult ‘end-of-life’ issues – ultimately finding the right time to prevent suffering.”
The research findings will be presented throughout BEVA Congress, with posters and information stands presented by World Horse Welfare and The Donkey Sanctuary (stands 500-502) but also in presentations delivered by project lead, Dr Georgina Crossman (Friday 15th Sept, Hall 3A, 15.05) and World Horse Welfare Chief Executive, Roly Owers (Friday 15th Sept, Hall 1A, 16.55).
Participating institutions: Askham Bryan College, Canterbury Christ Church University with the University of Sussex, Duchy College, Hadlow College, Harper Adams University, Hartpury College, Myerscough College, Plumpton College, Reaseheath College, Royal Agricultural University, Sparsholt College, University of Plymouth, Writtle College.
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