Ask the Experts

Q My older horse is in a lot of pain due to a chronic problem and I’m thinking of having him euthanized. What types of options do I have for disposing of his body in Maryland?

A I’m sorry to hear that you’re faced with this decision. Disposing of a deceased horse either on an individual basis or on a large scale basis (e.g. barn fire) can be very complicated in Maryland given that there have been no clear guidelines set forth by the state. Under state law, disposal of a deceased animal must be done in a manner that does not spread disease or endanger public health (Maryland Code-Agriculture § 3-108). the approved manner that the code refers to, however, has yet to be speci fically characterized. To make it more dif ficult on horse owners, some counties have regulations on animal carcass disposal, but some do not. Horse owners should research their county’s code before disposing of an animal’s body either by calling the entity responsible for solid waste disposal or by reviewing the codes online at www.


Despite not having a clear method as dictated by state law, horse owners have several options to consider when disposing of deceased animals. Deceased animal carcasses can be a hazard to the environment, so minimizing soil and water contamination is of utmost importance. The most common methods of disposal are removal by a licensed deadstock collector (i.e. renderer) or burying the deceased animal on your farm in a proper animal disposal pit. Some disposal options include:


There are a few companies that will remove a euthanized horse for a fee that is usually around $250. the carcass is removed to a facility that “recycles” them with other carcasses into byproducts, so that the proteins, fats and other elements can be used elsewhere. Make sure to limit the access of the deadstock collector and his vehicle to areas well away from other animals, their feed and water supply, and grazing areas. the number of rendering companies has been steadily declining over the last decade. To find a render in Maryland, you can visit the National Renders Association site at One of the few companies left that serves Maryland is Valley Proteins, Inc. (, 410-355-4800).



Burying a horse is a common practice since many horse owners regard their horses as family members and want to give them a proper burial. Most counties allow animal owners to bury the animals on their property, however it must be done in an environmentally accepted manner. A generally recommended procedure is to bury the animal more than 100 ft. from property lines, more than 300 ft from water sources, put lime on the top of the carcass, and use at least 3 ft of topsoil over the top of the carcass, preferably mounded to reduce water collection. It’s important to bury a deceased horse well away from water sources to avoid contamination of the water. Also, the lime is believed to prevent wild animals from disrupting the site. Under state law, if an animal has died of a contagious or infectious disease, it can be buried to a depth of at least 3 ft within three hours before sunset of the day following the discovery of the animal (Maryland Code-Agriculture § 3-109). To build a disposal site large enough for a horse, earth moving equipment, like a tractor with a backhoe, must be used to excavate a hole or trench large enough. Horses will usually require a trench that’s 7 ft wide and 9 ft deep.

Another option is to have the horse buried in a pet cemetery. There are several burial options including headstones and graveside funerals, which vary in cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Be sure to check out the International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories ( to find a pet cemetery in Maryland.


Cremation of a horse involves transporting the deceased body to a facility with an incinerator and it is a very effective means of disposing of a deceased horse that has died of an infectious disease. Maryland’s State Diagnostic Labs will cremate your instate horse for a fee of $0.50/lb or about $550 for an average 1100 lb horse. The cost for this service is high because of the cost of the fuel for the incinerator and because deceased horse disposal is not subsidized by government funds as it is for food animals. Keep in mind that you would need to discuss having the ashes returned to you if that’s your wish, because that may not be a normal procedure within the charge. There are also private crematories that you may want to look into. Compost Composting involves the complete burying of a horse above ground in a mound of carbon rich compost material like shredded hay or stall waste and then allowed to decay. The tissues of the carcass are broken down by microbes and pathogens are killed due to the high temperatures in the pile. For large animal carcasses, it’s recommended to turn the pile after 6 months has passed. Also, proper composting requires the pile reach high temperature ( > 130 F) and stay relatively moist. Composting is economical method of carcass disposal in that is costs about $40 per carcass, but it is not without its drawbacks. Large equipment would be needed to move the horse to the compost location. It often requires a large (20-30 ton) compost pile for successful composting, which would be unlikely on a small horse operation. The initial setup and labor can be quite expensive. With the reduction of renderers in Maryland, a large animal compost facility could become an excellent market.



Under state law, if the animal has died of a contagious or infectious disease, it can be burned within three hours before sunset of the day following the discovery of the animal (Maryland Code-Agriculture § 3-109). However, open air burning of deceased animals is not recommended due to the fact that it pollutes the air and gives off a bad odor. Maryland has a ban on open air burning from June 1 to September 1 of each year in most counties.



Most counties do not permit disposal of a deceased animal at a landfill. Make sure to call your local landfill first before moving the animal carcass to the land fill. Before you decide on the method of disposal for your deceased horse, think about your emotional and financial needs as well as the regulatory and environmental considerations. Horse owners need to consider their options for disposing of their horses before they die so that they do not make dif ficult decisions during an emotional time. If you need guidance when making a decision, contact the Maryland State Veterinarian’s Office (410-841-5810).


-Dr. Amy Burk - University of Maryland

This column is sponsored by the University of Maryland. the views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily
those of
The Equiery’s publisher or staff. If you have a question for our Maryland Experts, you can e-mail it to either Dr. Amy Burk at or Erin Petersen at If they can not answer your question directly, they will find the expert who can!


© 2007 The Equiery
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