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When to say when

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  • When to say when

    I apologize this will probably be long. I need some perspective and could use some advice.

    I have a 40 year old Welsh Arabian. She has been in my family for 27 years and I literally grew up with her as my best friend. She has been fully retired for 8 years. This year she has had some issues and I don’t think I am able to objectively look at the situation and know when to say when.

    Problems that aren’t new are: She has cataracts and while not blind does have limited vision. She does not hear great either. She doesn’t have any back teeth and has been on a diet of mash and pelleted feed for almost 10 years. She has arthritis and is creaky. She also has a rib out of place, she got knocked down by a larger horse 6 years ago and the vet said if it was broken there was nothing we could do and if it was misplaced a chiropractor could hurt her more than help her.

    She has a safe pasturemate/companion, a barn with the ability to come and go in the winter, a 2100D winter blanket and all the food she can eat (warm mash of beet pulp and alfalfa twice a day and free choice Senior feed with rice bran added). She is in good weight and just this fall pulled an escape trick by going in an open door into a dark barn, out the stall gate, down the boardwalk (not tipping over any buckets), and out the mandoor. In short being her ornery self. She is a pony and has always had the “I am a snotthead” twinkle in her eye.

    Then we came home on Thanksgiving and she was down in the pasture and unable to get up. She could get herself to the sitting dog position but no further. My husband noticed her back legs weren’t moving so we moved them back and forth a few times until she started moving them on her own. Then with me encouraging her and tugging on the lead rope my husband put an arm on each side of her rump and lifted her to her feet. We walked her around and after a few laps she started to move fine, it looked like her back legs had been asleep and were tingling. I had the vet come out to see what we could do for her. We drew blood for a baseline, started her on 0.5 grams of Bute morning and night, started making her walk around 15 minutes morning and night, had the series of 3 Legend injections (each 1 week apart), and started her on the supplement RedCell since the blood work showed she was anemic.

    It was working. After the second Legend injection I watched her lay down to roll three times and she popped back up. There was no pause or a heave hoe, just got up. I really can’t remember the last time I saw her do that, it must have been years ago.

    We went back to recheck her blood work. Her liver is shutting down. We stopped the Bute and are retesting her in a week, this Saturday. She also picked up the sniffles and a respiratory infection so is on antibiotics for 10 days. I understand that we are waiting to see what her liver does and know that if it continues to fail I won’t put her through that and will put her down. My problem is what if it stays the same, or gets only slightly better? Or even what if the liver comes back completely but now she can’t have an anti-inflammatory so is going to be more stiff, how stiff is too stiff? I couldn’t live with the guilt if she went down and was unable to get up and died like that. At the same time I see she is moving better than she has in 5-7 years. How do I know where the line is?

    When I picked her feet the week before Thanksgiving she leaned heavily on me for the back feet and they didn’t come up very high. That had been the usual for her and she had started to lean more in the last year. Just yesterday she held all of her own weight and lifted them completely up. But she has only been off the Bute for since Saturday am. Can I even use that as a gauge to see if she can flex enough to get up?

    I was very young when we got her so I don’t remember life without her and I genuinely love her more than my own mother. I am afraid that I will hold on to her longer than I should yet I don’t want to put her down before it’s necessary. I have put down other horses and was able to make the decision. It was different because in all instances it was clear that it was the right decision. I don’t know if I can do that in this case if her liver doesn’t completely fail. When you line out all that she is facing it sounds horrible. Yet in person she doesn’t seem that bad off.

    This is her two years ago March:
    And this is her last April:
    She is still maintaining the same condition I just don‘t have any recent pictures without the blanket on. I appreciate any thoughts.

  • #2
    What an impressive old lady You've certainly done right by her!

    Depending on the labs, you might have your choice made for you. If she is further down the road of liver failure, I don't think there's a question here, is there?

    If her liver values have improved, you have a hard decision to make, indeed. You can see if she can maintain on the Legend, but the risk (as I see it) is that she could go down and not be able to get up, perhaps in the middle of the night, and suffer for a period of time.

    I know that, personally, I would never want a horse to go down in the middle of the night, in winter, and struggle to rise. And, should I have a horse that was having trouble getting up with regularity, I would make the call to euthanize. Better too early than too late.


    • #3
      IMO when they are at risk of going down and not being able to get up, that is "time". Winter is so much harder on the oldsters--is there something you have to look forward to in terms of the mare's quality of life? If not, other than more of the same and a steady downhill course, maybe it's best to make her last days the best possible and pick a date. In the absence of a true emergency, you can make all the necessary and unpleasant-to-contemplate plans (or have someone help you with that) like disposal of the body, etc. Then throw her a birthday party.

      Good luck deciding. What a neat thing to share so much of your life with one horse!
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        I think you've given her a wonderful life, and it's better to let her go while her days are still happy and comfortable, rather than waiting for a time when you have no other choice. Set a date a week or two from now, spend the time saying your goodbyes and pampering her, and give her the best gift you can. Let her go with no suffering.

        IMO. (((Hugs))) either way.
        *OMGiH I Loff my Mare* and *My Saddlebred Can Do Anything Your Horse Can Do*


        • #5
          I am so very sorry. We went through this last holiday season with our 41 year old pony, which was born and raised at our place. He and my brother were both born in May of 1970. Up until about Thanksgiving he had been really perky and everything was going well other than we were starting to struggle with a cancer issue.

          I really wanted to get through Christmas before making a decision. As it invariably seems to happen, I went Christmas shopping out of town and when he laid down to rest/sun he simply could not get up. My 67 year old mother called crying. She got bute in him and the boys got him on his feet but he simply could not remain standing. The vet and I showed up at the same time. Our decision was easy at that time. He had 41 good years and one really bad day.

          I still question if I was being selfish by waiting too long. It was such a difficult decision to make as he was a member of our family and the last vestige of my childhood. Fortunately, he did not suffer much as it happened during the day, but in hindsight, I know I should have made the decision sooner rather than let it get to that point.

          I wish you the best as there is no easy answer.
          Last edited by quarterhorse4me; Jan. 2, 2013, 07:47 PM. Reason: misspelling


          • #6
            I am sobbing read your story because if we are very lucky, in twenty years my daughter would be writing it about her own dear Nanny Pony. How very fortunate you have been to have her for so long and what an amazing job you have done caring for her.

            My advice is this: dont borrow trouble. Wait to see what happens with her liver. In the meantime, begin meditating a bit on impermanence and spend as much time as you can marvelling over her and adoring her. No matter what happens today, you know that someday she will die so make every day count.
            "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


            • #7
              Oh gosh, the toughest part of being blessed by an animals long and healthy life I have to agree that I wouldn't let her get any worse. She's obviously headed in the direction of not being able to get up. Take a few days off work, pamper the heck out of her, then have the vet out to your place. I think you will have more regrets if she ends up suffering than letting her go peacefully too early.
              "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle" - Winston Churchill

              Check out Central Virginia Horse Rescue


              • #8
                I am so sorry you have to go through this - it's never an easy decision. I just put my 31-year old TB down back in September. He was still happy, content, looked great, bright-eyed, etc. He did have problems getting up after rolling but I think he knew how much effort it took to get up so he maybe rolled 2-3 times a week. He never, ever laid down to sleep - never did in the 12 years I owned him. But I always did say that when it gets to the point where he can't get up on his own then it was time. I got to the barn one night and could tell from the distance something wasn't right - his back end just was out of whack. I called my vet and ended up bringing him to the hospital. Most likely it was EPM - all signs pointed to that though we didn't test him for it (did do xrays of his neck to make that was causing the neuro symptons). I brought him home and gave him a great week of being spoiled and then the following Sunday I had him put down - it was a beautiful sunny afternoon - he went very peacefully. It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make but it was the right one - he did okay for a week but then just went down hill fast - neurologically he was not good - though he was still eating, etc. With winter coming the thought of having him go down and not be able to get up wasn't something I could deal with - just not fair to him. Better a day too early than a minute too late. Just remember the good times and know that you aren't alone.

                Euthanasia takes away their pain and makes it ours...
                "When a horse greets you with a nicker & regards you with a large & liquid eye, the question of where you want to be & what you want to do has been answered." CANTER New England


                • #9
                  Can you turn her out in a pasture close to the barn so you will notice fairly quickly if she can't get up? Sometimes, with a little assistance right away, they can get up. If they are stuck in one position too long, their legs seem to go numb and it is hard to get them up.

                  Personally, I would wait and see if she has another episode of not being able to get up before I would make the decision. Of course I have a 25 year old who limps around the pasture, and who many people would have euthanized.


                  • #10
                    I would say she's pretty close. I would rather let one go before before they have zero quality of life left. If she were mine, would probably set a date and spoil her absolutely rotten up until then...

                    The owners of a horse i ride have the habit of letting them go too long. Last mare was 28, struggled to get up and down on a normal day due to EPM and arthritis, barely had teeth left so was skin and bones but when she came into heat would still break through fences to go visit the stallions. They used these random days to justify keeping her around, even though she had more really horrible days than really good days. The barn help had come out the morning after thanksgiving and found her down all but dead in the field with a bunch of blood coming out of her nose and mouth, skinned up badly from thrashing on chopped up frozen ground. She expired not long after, before the vet could get out to take care of her. The owners want to have the warm fuzzies and pat themselves on the back and say "she went on her own terms". To me, it was not a kind end in the least.


                    • #11
                      I'm so sorry, I can't imagine losing a horse after so many years. It certainly sounds like you can rest easy knowing you did absolutely everything you could. There are very few people that would be willing to do so much for a retired pony that age, and without a doubt you have kept her comfortable for years longer than she might have lived with someone else. You have gotten good advice already - if her liver is failing, I wouldn't wait for that to become disastrous for her, personally. Even if it improves, I think you should probably consider her on borrowed time and enjoy every day with her. For me, I would rather euthanize a week too early than a day too late, it is heartbreaking and will be worse for you in the long run if she is down and can't get up, etc.

                      Three things that I hope will help you - one is that as humans, we have a terrible tendency to think in human terms, not horse terms. One of the wonderful things about animals is that they live so much more in the moment than we do - and as a result, they don't really think "oh, I hope I live as long as possible;" instead, their focus is on how they feel right now (as far as we know, anyway). I think most animals would choose a shorter lifespan with greater comfort levels, and have tried to make decisions for my four-legged children accordingly. i.e. if Bute keeps her happy and spry, but is going to shorten her lifespan because of liver damage, to me it's still the better course of action for her, because it will make her more comfortable for those days. Two is that the fact that you are worried about not being willing to let you, in my experience means that you are less likely to struggle with that than you think. Having an awareness that you don't want to do that goes a long way in preventing it. Three, I had to euthanize my beloved childhood horse when he was 34. He hadn't been with me quite as long, but as I was about the same age, we had spent half of our lives together. As you would expect, it was of course devastating, but for me it was not quite as awful to get through as I expected. It was sort of like the difference in losing a 90 year old family member vs. a child - it is of course devastating and you can't imagine life without them, but there was also a sense of peace that he had had a really long and happy life, enjoyed retirement, etc. I sincerely hope that the same will be true for you.


                      • #12
                        Such a pretty girl. I can't offer any advice as I haven't been there yet, but in your heart you should know the right time. It might be today, it might be next week, or even a few months from now. If she seems otherwise happy and you are around and able to help her up then I don't see a problem with continuing to assist her and be extra watchful. At some point she will struggle just a bit too much and she will let you know in her own way that she would rather be at rest. I have an almost 21 year old mare myself and dread the day when I'll have to make a decision.


                        • #13
                          Why does this decision always seem so much harder with the VERY old horses ? So tough when they've done so well for so long then start that downhill slide. {HUGS} to you, this just sucks

                          First, wait and see what the results tell you. The decision may be completely evident and a no-brainer.

                          But ...

                          I couldn't let a horse go on who was having difficulties getting back up again from being down. Esp going into winter. What happens if you're not home and she goes down and can't get back up ? What if she's down in the freezing rain for a period of time and can't get herself up & into the barn ? Even an easy going horse would be really stressed out by that - they are after all prey animals.


                          • #14
                            I am so sad for you. So hard to let go. I agree with the others: better a day too soon than an hour too late.

                            I know you would feel even worse if you found her gone and knew that she had suffered.

                            God bless you for being such a wonderful caretaker.
                            Ride like you mean it.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by RedMare01 View Post
                              I think you've given her a wonderful life, and it's better to let her go while her days are still happy and comfortable, rather than waiting for a time when you have no other choice. Set a date a week or two from now, spend the time saying your goodbyes and pampering her, and give her the best gift you can. Let her go with no suffering.
                              Ditto. She has obviously been very well taken care of, and you don't want to see her any other way (suffering and such). I have always made the decision before it became my only option.
                              "If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple payments..."


                              • #16
                                So sorry you're faced with this decision. For what its worth, I made the decision this fall with my mare. She had not yet gone down and gotten stuck, but it was pretty inevitable that would be her fate this winter. She had severe ringbone and was at high risk of a fracture, and she had started having balance difficulties. I too, did not want that fate for her, so we let her go on a warm Monday morning following a weekend of spoiling and I haven't regretted the decision for a second.

                                I did, however, put 6 months of significant effort into making her more comfortable before making the call. Ultimately I knew that none of those efforts would get her comfortably through winter.

                                So, were I in your shoes, I'd re-test the liver, and if function goes back up, maybe try previcox/equioxx instead of bute. My mare did far better on that in her last few months than bute from a systemic standpoint.

                                However, if her liver is not functioning properly, it is definitely time. You have given her an incredible, long and full life.
                                Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


                                • #17
                                  You have really done right by your lovely (and lucky) mare. Hugs. You will make the right decision.
                                  "The Son Dee Times" "Sustained" "Somerset" "Franklin Square"


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Thank you all for your kind thoughts and words, they have greatly helped.

                                    Last night and this morning she was missing that twinkle in her eye. While nothing has drastically changed physically, she just seems done. I have always let her lead the way through rocky paths and I don’t think I should stop now. After consulting the vet she is back on Bute to keep her comfortable and we still have Saturday’s appointment, only changed the reason.

                                    The panic-like worry over making the right decision is gone. While I am still sad and crying I know this is right.

                                    Since all horses gain a year on the first we already went ahead and spent New Year’s Day as her birthday. I am grateful for all that she has taught me and having the chance to say goodbye.




                                    • #19
                                      I'm so sorry. It is never easy. {{hugs}}


                                      • #20
                                        A big hug from NC....hang in there.