I have 25 yo TB mare, gray, and she has had melanomas since I purchased her 13 years ago. They were benign and small at the time of purchase, as is typical. In 2004, they began to grow and spread. I took her to OSU to be evaluated. They biopsied and confirmed they were still benign, but definitely progressing. They were clustered and not able to be surgically removed as there was not enough healthy tissue to close the wound and the surgeons that looked at her said that they could not remove the tumors without causing fecal incontinence. We put her on cimetadine. We tried it for 1 year, with no impact. The tumors continued to grow and spread. In 2006, I had her evaluated again at the university. At that time, they re-biopsied a few of the tumors. Most were benign, but 1 came back malignant. This was removed, but tumor tissue grew back in it's place. I was told there was really nothing else to do, but manage issues as they came up.
2009, the tumors spread to her gutteral pouch, and colon. They also began to ulcerate. I had her seen again, and was again told to manage the symptoms. Dress any ulcerations, treat with antibiotics, and carry on. Another biopsy done showing further malignancy, but was told it's slow growing and she will likely die of something else before the tumors significantly impact her life.
Fast forward to now, they continue to ulcerate, and continue to grow. Her entire tail and anus is nothing but tumor clusters. I am cleaning daily, treating with antibiotic ointment, but I feel like I'm doing nothing. I had a vet out to see her 3 weeks ago. he said they were very advanced, he did bloodwork to confirm that they had not spread to any vital organs. Bloodwork all came back normal. She is eating and still engaging with the herd, but she has also had an increase in allergies, has lost weight, and does not look healthy. The vet told me 3 weeks ago to keep going as we are and I'll know when it's time... but I am asking myself every single day which side of the quality of life scale she is on. She's not sound... pasture sound,yes, can run when she wants to, and does run and play, but she is not comfortable. She hobbles out of her stall and some days she warms up and is fine, others she's very stiff. Her tail is a mess, and defacating is uncomfortable. I was really hoping the vet would give me a yes its time or no, shes still ok. OR at the very least a time table, but all i got was the same "just do what you're doing and you'll know"
I'm thinking just me asking the question means it's time, and I am definitely of the day sooner than day later thought process, but I also don't want to do it too soon. She still seems happy a lot of the time, but other times seems absolutely miserable. I think of nothing but this back and forth and am just at a loss. The vet has seen her in the state shes in now and didn't say it's time, which then makes me question me own thinking... I'm just at a total loss and not sure where to turn and what to do or think. I'm afraid a lot of the vet issue is just the lack of knowledge about the condition and so he's leaving the choice up to me rather than making the call himself. Anyone else dealt with this condition and have some insight for me? Signs as to whether it's time or if I need to relax? I'm at my wits end, have made pro-con lists, have gotten the vet involved, and still feel I'm nowhere.
Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.
First, hugs to you ... this is not an easy thing to deal with.
This is not a situation where there's a chance she might improve substantially or be cured. With that in mind, I would schedule the euthanization and make her last days the very best I could.
I am also of the mind that it is better to let her go peacefully sooner, rather than painfully later. All she knows is today, and how she feels right now. Giving her a good, peaceful end is an awesome gift.
I'm sorry that I can't answer your question, but I have one for you -- was cimetidine ruled out? I ask b/c that's a pretty common treatment for horses with melanoma. But obviously you've had her at great vets, so I'm wondering what went into that decision.
As for putting her down I will say that I doubt the vet will tell you when. I know my veterinarian says that people draw that line in all different places so what is right for one person is not for another.
Good luck as you go through all this, it isn't easy!
Edited to add -- never mind! I clearly need more coffee today as I cannot read for comprehension. Sorry about that, and about your dilemma.
I'm so sorry you're faced with this decision. It sounds as though you've done everythig possible to keep her happy and comfortable. Take heart in the knowledge that horses don't fear the end, they don't know it's coming.
My small animal vet has always asked me, when my animals have been old or sick "are they eating, sleeping, peeing, and pooping?" For many animals, that's enough to be happy. It sounds as though for your girl, perhaps at least a couple of those answers are no.
I went through the exact same situation that you are going through now about 10 years ago with my grey half arab. I bought him when he was 13 years old. At that time he had melanomas on his tail, around his anus and on his sheath. I tried cimetidine as well, but it didn't stop them from growing. Because the tumors grew in clusters, I was told that surgery would be ineffective--they would just grow back more aggressively.
For the next eight years I treated them topically (like you are doing) when they opened and oozed and bled. During the summer flies would lay eggs on the ones on the tail, and I had to rub wormer paste on them to kill the eggs. It was all pretty disgusting and I felt so bad for my guy. The last year of his life one of the tumors underneath his tail started growing rapidly and looked very different from the other tumors. I didn't have it biopsied but the vet said it was likely malignant. One night I got a call from my barn owner saying my horse was colicking badly and would probably not make it. I rushed to the barn--the vet was already there. He tubed him and we got him walking. But there was blood all over his tail (from rubbing the tumors). He did survive that colic episode, but I was told that the melanomas had probably grown internally and had caused the colic (this is a horse that had never had more than minor gas colics in the 8 years I had owned him)>
In the meantime, the tumor under his tail continued to grow and was starting to interfere with his ability to defecate. It was so large and heavy, my poor boy couldnt' lift his tail. In desperation I took him to the local large animal hospital and asked about the possibility of amputating his tail. The vet we consulted very wisely said that would not be possible because there was no health tissue around the area to close the wound, so he would bleed to death. He also brought up the idea of euthanasia in the not too distant future.
I was devasted because, other than the tail area, my horse was still a beautiful boy. He was still eating and drinking. But I knew he must have been miserable, and it was only a matter of time before he would have a massive colic episode again. With an extremely heavy heart I made the appointment to have him euthanized. The last week of his life I saw him every day and told him how much I loved him. It broke my heart, but I knew I made the right decision. It did help that a vet I respected confirmed my gut feeling.
So I know how hard this decision is for you, but trust your own gut and know that you are making the right choice. The tumors will only continue to grow, and your horse's quality of life will only continue to diminish. Hugs to you--if you want to talk to me about this further, please feel free to PM me--I've been there.
So sorry for this - it is the hardest thing to have to make this decision. I always say better a day too soon than a day too late. Animals are very stoic, and only know the here and noe. Personally I would make that decision before she goes further down hill. Believe me, there is nothing worse than waiting too long.
I was really hoping the vet would give me a yes its time or no, shes still ok. OR at the very least a time table, but all i got was the same "just do what you're doing and you'll know"
In my experience, the vet generally doesn't make the call, the owner does. They may talk about options and considerations but not tell you what you should do. I think he is telling you that you need to be in the right place to make that decision and be comfortable with it.
In a case like this, it will be one of the hardest decisions you will have to make and your vet is right, you'll know when it is time.
Thank you for the support and compassion. And Brooklyn, thank you for sharing your story. It really helps and I may take you up on your offer. I've been frustrated lately as my barn owner has been pestering me to haul her to another university for another opinion... she insists there has to be something else that can be done, but I truly have exhausted all consults and options. There is nothing to do but maintain comfort. She's not understanding that, making this even more difficult and making me feel negligent. Though in looking through all her records yesterday and seeing all the write ups from vets at 2 different universities that specialize in the field... I know that I'm speaking the truth, and I had her looked at just 3 weeks ago because things had progressed. She has malignant tumors, she's not going to get better. She'll only continue to decline, and I'd rather not wait until she is septic from an internal ulceration or colics because one of the tumors in her intestines causes a blockage.
I did notice this week also, that her herd members have started picking on her. They have lived together for a year now, with no problems. The last week she has been coming in with scrapes and bites and I watched the herd leader chase her around the field Monday. It was short lived, but he definitely drove her away from the group, which I haven't seen happen before. They used to graze side by side.
Our family may be forced to relocate soon as my fiance was laid off in January due to the economy, at which time it's a no brainer, as she can't go through a move. But I'm thinking I'll go ahead and set this up before that point, so my poor brain doesn't have to deal with all of that at once.
So I think I'm going to go ahead and make the appointment for a few weeks from now and just make her last few weeks as happy and comfortable as possible. I'll let her go before the southern heat really kicks in, because she doesn't tolerate it well and that always makes the ulcerations worse anyway, bringing more bugs, which she's allergic to, and then she's covered in hives and itchy and really miserable.
Thanks to all for letting me talk this all out here.
Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.
I feel horrible for you to have to go through this, but really glad to see you thinking about the quality of life. You have gone above and beyond what many people do with greys that have melanomas, but also know the limitations. I have seen way too many people put their horses through horrible times just try to fix something that often is not fixable.
As a kid (probably say 13ish?) a pony at the barn got kicked in the shoulder (thats what they think) and broke their shoulder. The owner desperately wanted to save her. Pony was completely non weight baring and the break was not in a good place. They wrapped her leg with this PVC pipe thing as a splint which later slid and cut open her leg by the pastern (although chances are at this point she didn't feel it too much). I literally watched her leg die, it was so weird and the poor pony was in so much pain. Knowing what I know now I can't believe she didn't founder horribly in the other foot for as long as she was hurt. It was several months before owner decided it was time, I know she loved the pony but it was horrible to watch the pony go through that.
I know that for some people letting go before there is no other option is very hard. Last year my friend had to put down my old pony because his pasturemate was put down. My old pony was mostly blind, and had been abused a long time ago, combine those too it was very hard to catch him and he got scared easily. He was kept with another old guy and lived in a quiet place with wood fencing and he wasn't haltered to get from pasture to barn and it worked. But we knew he couldn't handle adjusting to a new pasturemate (which we didn't have one anyways) nor could he handle being moved down to where my friend had all her lesson horses and boarders. There would be way too much going on and all the fencing down there was electrobraid which he couldn't bounce off of if he ran into it. He would have been terrified and it would not have been fair to him to live out his time scared all the time. He was well into his 40's at this point and had lived a great life. I think the decision was harder on my friend (she technically owned him, had used him in her school program then supported his retirement, she is awesome) but I was ok with it because I know how scared he would have been.
I know some people can not handle putting down a seemingly healthy horse, but there are times that I think it is the best thing you can do.
To the OP I think your decision to give a few weeks is great. I know I would be devastated if I kept putting something like that and they were to colic due to the tumors and go out in such a painful way.
First, please accept my sincere condolences on your very painful and difficult situation.
In my experience, when the herd start picking on them, it's because they "smell different" and the herd is being self-protective. I've seen this also with horses that come in very thin, and I no longer mingle those with the others until their weight is normal. It has also happened in cases somewhat like this, where the horse was later found to have some underlying condition.
I would remove your horse from the herd before s/he gets injured; that would be even more traumatic for both of you. Then ask yourself how happy the horse will be if not allowed to "be a horse," out grazing w/buddies etc.
My guess is your gut already knows it's time; and don't let anybody, the BO included, second-guess or judge you on that. The relationship--and the responsibility--is yours.
You have my sympathy for this situation as it is one we are going to have to deal with some day.
Our world class baby sitter is in his late 20's and has tumors from one end to the other.
We watch him very carefully for any changes in his routine but to date, he still loves his food and all seems to pass in good order. He still enjoys a good "race" across the field with his TB buddies - sometimes they even let him win. The vet told me I would know when it was time to start planning...
Even though he has large clusters under his tail, they don't seem to hinder his ability to pass manure and they aren't open sores. When one or both of those happen, that will be my sign. His hind fetlocks are starting to drop so who knows, that may do him in before the tumors do.
Til then we say good night with a pat and good morning with breakfast and are grateful for the days we have with him.
Bless you FK for making the right, albeit the hardest, decision now for her.
You have realized that the outcome will be the same whether it's done soon or much later, but that "much later" will mostly mean more discomfort and pain.
Give her a nice piece of carrot cake from Auntie ChocoMare on her last day.
<>< Sorrow Looks Back. Worry Looks Around. Faith Looks Up! -- Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don't have to sit on it.
I called and made an appointment on Monday with a different vet in the area. The man that I have been using for the past year is sincerely lacking in compassion and concern, and I don't feel comfortable using him for this decision. This woman comes highly recommended as being very compassionate and knowledgeable. I have met her before, but not used her personally.
She is going to come out Monday, give her a full physical, and then help me decide where we are. She said its ultimately my decision, but she will let me know her honest opinion of where she is as far as comfort and quality of life from a medical over view and that if I want to move forward with euthanizing, we can schedule that for another day to give me a little more time and to make all the arrangements. She also promised that if she felt it wasn't in her best interest to give it a couple more weeks, she would be honest about that as well.
I'll talk to the barn owner today about separating her from the herd. There is an elderly gelding at the barn in his 30's and he doesn't give her any trouble, so she could go in another field with him so she still has a buddy and still gets out without being in danger.
Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.
I can imagine how hard it is to listen to different vet opinions and have to make up your mind, especially when this is your personal much loved horse and all sorts of guilty feelings can rise to the top. I will tell you that the vet that came out to treat my horse the night of his colic was not my regular vet. When I mentioned the idea that perhaps it was time to euthanize, this vet strongly objected and said my horse still had a lot of fight in him. He also said that he could cut the huge tumor off his tail with wire right in the barn!!!! When I told this story to the vet I took him to at the large animal hospital, he said my horse would have died from hemorrhage if I had gone along with that procedure (which I knew was wrong from the start). I did not mention the name of the first vet to the second one, because I didn't want to slander anyone.
The point of this story is, again, to listen to your gut. Most people told me I went above and beyond normal care for my boy-of course he deserved only the best because I loved him dearly and he had given me many years of joy. As has your mare. You obviously are a dedicated, loving owner and are devoted to giving your mare the best possible life. Sometimes that means giving them a good death when the time comes. It is never an easy decision--how could it be--but it can be the right one.
Well you know I love Bailey. She is one of the nicest, sweetest mares around. Cloudy thinks she's great. (He loved to flirt with Bailey which made Hattie furious.)
Our 2nd barn had the 29 yoa grey tb mare, I had known her dam and saw her the day after she was born, she had lots of melanomas around her anus by the time I saw her years later, and she made it to 29. She was skinny, but she was a good old girl. She died from exposure when the BO left her out unblanketed in sleet and frozen mud w/o a blanket, altho I'd offered one of C&C's. I held the old mare while she was dying.
So you and Bailey evaluate her quality of life. You don't want her to linger in pain unless she won't get better. However, if she's still eating and bright eyed, I'd not put her down. As long as the tb mare spark in her eye is there, she's going to persevere. But I pretty much think that it's the decision of the horse and the vet and the farrier. (But of course you-know-who is off on honeymoon. He loved his mare so much that when he put her down, she had foundered and fought it for 3 yrs, he told me he swore he'd never love anything that much again. So when he recommends putting her down, he's just copping out.)
It's only when she gives up that you want to let go. Cloudy and Hattie and I will help in any way that we can. Let us know, and we'll (or I'll) be there to help you.
Here's hoping Bailey can rally and make it through what will be a hot summer with bugs. Sand gnats should leave her alone when it gets dismally hot.
Call me if you need me. I love Bailey girl. And talk to John, not the other you-know-who. John will tell you upfront what her condition is. Takes a surgeon to leave the emotion out of an evaluation. And I totally agree with you about the other vet. I'm just hoping John will hire Catherine Duncan back. She knew horses! And I'll see if Cherise has any ideas as she is now working for Joe Mckenzie over here. Cherise used to be a barn worker at our first barn. You do need to take Bailey to John. He's wonderful, and totally different from 2nd you-know-who.
You know she did pretty well last summer, the hottest on record, at our old barn. I know you like your new barn, and that since our old barn is being sold you cannot take her back there, but maybe if she moved away from sand gnat areas? Cloudy and Callie were not allegic to sand gnats. But when a horse is allergic, they have to stay in their stall during gnat season. Which should be over soon.
FindersKeppers - I lost my grey Abdullah mare just about three weeks ago. She (of course) had melanomas, although they weren't as bad as your horse's. She didn't show any sign of illness, was fine the night before and dead when I went down to feed breakfast. One of the vet's hypotheses was that a melanoma tumor in her brain had burst.
She was the 2nd gray Trak mare I'd lost to melanoma complications. My first mare died 2 weeks before we had scheduled to deliver her by caesarean. Her tumors had grown so fast and so aggressively with the onset of pregnancy that we were just trying to keep her alive long enough to deliver. I lost them both. The one thing I will say is that the melanomas didn't seem to cause any pain. WIth my first mare, I started giving her metamucil and bran mashes to keep things loose.
Of course, I went out and bought another grey horse. I apparently will never learn. She's younger (14) and I don't see any sign of melanoma yet.
Good luck with your mare. The one thing the vet told me after he put the first mare down is that I'd done everything I could have, and not to say "what if?", because there wasn't anything else I could've done. You need to give yourself a break and don't beat yourself up.