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Losing a horse slowly sucks. Just a vent.

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  • Losing a horse slowly sucks. Just a vent.

    I'm very down today ... we've had a tough year and it just keeps getting tougher. I'm just needing to write it out and share ... there's nothing anyone can really do, just needing some thoughts I guess. At the beginning of January our family lost a 4 yr old Morgan to a bladder tumor, my 20+ year old cat died the end of January, and I'm slowly losing my 24 yr old ex-eventer TB bit by bit. It just sucks.

    We had to have the vet out AGAIN last night for Rocky, after a couple days where he seemed to be getting better. Rocky is a gray and has very bad melanomas. We started him on Cimetidine a year ago and he's very responsive to that, it attacks his tumors and makes them die, then burst and drain. We ended up docking his tail last summer because as the tumors shrunk and drained off, we found that his tail bones were very brittle and weak after carrying around those tumors for so long, and to stop the draining and release of toxins in his system.

    In December he came up lame and x-rays confirmed a diagnosis of high ringbone. He has jumped his entire lifetime, and competed at the second highest level in eventing, so it's not a surprise that he would have ringbone. With that diagnosis, we stopped the Cimetidine figuring with two separate progressive diseases there is no reason to keep fighting the tumors so much. Unfortunately, that lead to the tumors starting to swell and grow again.

    He was dead lame for three weeks, and in a lot of pain. At the same time he started having problems defacating - lots of pain and straining, culminating in a narrowing of his intestines to the point we had to have the vet out to oil him and banamine him because he absolutely could not poo one morning. I was convinced we were going to lose him that day, but the vet told me it wasn't time, to give him 24 hours to see if the oil helped, that Rocky was still fighting. We decided to start him back on the Cimetidine to reduce the swelling. 24 hours later he was like a different horse, moving around freely and looking great, pooing easy, etc.

    Well.... the Cimetidine is doing his job. The tumors above his rectum and along his intestines internally ultimately swelled up and burst, and have been draining for about a month now. It's nasty, my sister has to scrub him every day or two, and he's just struggling. But he's still fighting. He's still bright eyed and eating and it's just NOT TIME. But the ups and downs are getting to me, and this is so hard...

    We took him in to the vet about ten days ago to have him sedated and cleaned up well since it's winter and we are having to do sponge baths. That helped alot, we're worried about scald on his back legs, etc., but that led to two days of massive soreness to the point I once again was ready to make the call - he could barely walk. Our vet has warned us against overusing bute right now because they feel he will develop an ulcer rapidly, but because we had cause and effect (the pain was from the scrubbing) we did put him on bute for a couple days. The change was huge. He was walking freely again, fighting his way up the ladder to come in from turnout, bright eyed and up, looking really good.

    Then yesterday ... the drainage had slowed down for a couple days. I had him in the arena to see how he was moving and he even chose to trot around and was moving freely and wonderfully. It really seemed we were on the upswing... only to come back four hours later to clean him up and change his blanket to find an abscess on his upper thigh ... which popped and drained all over my poor sister. We got the vet out again ... put him on an antibiotic, and had a long, long talk again. Basically the tumors (and all the white blood cells from his body fighting them) didn't stop draining, they are just draining internally now and this was drainage that had found a way to the surface.

    We have stopped the Cimetidine. We are dealing with the fact that this was one "baby step" closer to the final decision. We can't put him on penicillin because the vet says he "has no muscle to put it in." His liver is slowing down, which means he isn't processing protein as well as he should and so he's not building muscle, in fact he's probably using muscle. He looks good - we're keeping the calories up and his weight is stable but between being sick and 2.5 months off he has no topline or butt or neck muscles anymore. We can't overuse the bute - and I won't, that's one of my "it's time" lines - I will not make a horse be on daily bute.

    It's just hard watching him waste away. The vet agrees it's not time, Rocky's still fighting, he's still got a good quality of life, but it's coming. Our vets have talked about the situation a lot, and all agree that they know we won't unreasonable extend things, so it's not like we're making him suffer, but it's just draining and hard and no one really understands what it's like to watch him slowly fade away in front of us. It's not an easy decision. He still has more good days than bad, but who knows if that's going to change.

    While I understand everyone when they say they would prefer a bad colic, or if he can't get up one morning, or whatever that they need to make an easy decision ... I don't WANT him to have to go through that. So we wait. And we continue to do what we need to do to keep him happy and comfortable. He gets his bran mash twice a day, his 4 scoops of sweet feed and oats daily, his 6-8 flakes of high alfalfa content hay every day, and we keep gummy worms, peppermints, and licorice in a bin outside of his stall - of which he gets plenty because he is much loved at our barn and people tend to give him treats when they walk by him.

    Our BO has been amazing, she lets us turn him out in the arena at night if we are worried about pain or stocking up, she'll keep him in if he has a bad morning, she feeds him his bran mash in the morning without a complaint, and keeps him in until he's done eating and asks to go out.

    It's just hard ... and I just needed to write it out. He's such an amazing horse all in all ... he earned his retirement and I know I owe him the dignity of making the choice I will soon have to make.

    Thanks for reading ... writing it out helped a bit.
    If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
    ~ Maya Angelou

  • #2
    I'm so sorry you're having to go through this. Having just lost a boarders horse in the barn, we were talking about how "good" (for lack of better terms) it was that she had a bad colic and it wasn't a long drawn out process. Have been there and it absolutely does suck. I'm sure a lot of people would tell you to have him euthanized now. I probably would too. But I'm not going to harp on that. What I would say is give yourself some absolutes. Kinda like you are doing, no daily bute, no more cimetadine, etc. Just don't keep finding new ones.

    The only thing I can offer is have you tried coating the areas below the drainage areas with Vaseline? This will offer his skin protection from scalding. A thick layer and you can then only have to clean him once a day. It will also allow the chapped skin to heal. Just a thought.

    *jingles* from NJ
    Life is hard. After all, it kills you. - K. Hepburn


    • Original Poster

      Originally posted by sanctuary View Post
      The only thing I can offer is have you tried coating the areas below the drainage areas with Vaseline? This will offer his skin protection from scalding. A thick layer and you can then only have to clean him once a day. It will also allow the chapped skin to heal. Just a thought.
      We are using Desitin actually, not only is it water resistant so the drainage doesn't stick, but it has a numbing agent in it that helps him feel better.

      It's been "almost time" twice for me ... and my vets and I have seriously discussed it many times. It's coming. Just last night our main vet and I talked about it a lot, and I told him I want him to be the one when it is truly time. He said all three of our vets at the clinic dread the calls from me now, because they know one of them will be the "it's time" call. We are pretty much to the point that they can't do anything further. There is no surgery option, we can't dock his butt , there's no treatment, and we just keep inching closer. But two of the vets have said we haven't turned that corner yet, and talked a lot about how there are good days and bad days, he might have a bad night and then turn around and be playing and happy the next day.

      I also have to balance out the wishes of my family ... unfortunately. Yes, he's mine, and it sucks even more that I have to consider this, but I have a mother who would disown me if I didn't try everything. She's one of those that is saying she'd be "more comfortable with euthanizing if he has a colic" and doesn't do well with the quality of life judgment call. Having to come to terms with the fact I may lose my mother at the same time I lose my horse, even if she eventually comes back around, just makes it much harder.

      Ultimately, though... when it's time, it's time, and I will do what I have to do. Last night the vet said he uses five criteria - are they peeing, pooing, eating, moving around, and being a horse - and of course not suffering unnecessarily. Rocky still meets his criteria. He hasn't given up ... yet. He may never give up, he's a fighter ... The vet says I'll know. We've been through a lot with this vet, and his support has made this much easier. He's a great guy - told me last night he promises he will win one for me someday! It's hard on him to not be able to do anything too.

      It's just so so so hard ... and other than my sister who is going through this with me I have very few people to talk to who understand.
      If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
      ~ Maya Angelou


      • #4
        I'm sorry to hear about your horse, but I think it's cruel to wait until they've given up to put them down. Horses are, by nature, stoic creatures. Let him go while he still has SOME good days. Better a week too early than a moment too late. Believe me, if you wait until he's miserable all the time, you'll never forgive yourself for not making the decision earlier.


        • #5
          I'm so sorry for you and for your horse.
          I'm not going to say you should put him down now but am going to say you remind me of me when I was losing my John "piece by piece". He had a good day here and there that was just enough to keep me thinking that we would pull out of it and hoping. My Vet told me one day "the outcome is not going to be good no matter what we do."
          I knew that but had shoved it to the back of my mind on the days there was hope. Finally realized that the bad days out numbered the "better" days and knew what I had to do.
          I wish you peace when the day comes that you know what you must do. It's a really really rough decision to make.
          I'm so sorry.
          You know why cowboys don't like Appaloosas?" - Answer: Because to train a horse, you have to be smarter than it is.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Simkie View Post
            I'm sorry to hear about your horse, but I think it's cruel to wait until they've given up to put them down. Horses are, by nature, stoic creatures. Let him go while he still has SOME good days. Better a week too early than a moment too late. Believe me, if you wait until he's miserable all the time, you'll never forgive yourself for not making the decision earlier.
            I'm gonna stand with Simkie on this.

            (((( Hugs )))) from one who's been there/done that.
            <>< 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.


            • #7
              Originally posted by ChocoMare View Post
              I'm gonna stand with Simkie on this.

              (((( Hugs )))) from one who's been there/done that.
              I'm with Simkie and Chocomare on this also. I think after you've had one that you waited too long to make the decision, you vow never to put yourself or the horse in that situation again.

              If it were me, I'd not worry about Bute use on a "hospice" type horse who needs his pain alleviated.

              I know how hard this is with an older guy you've obviously done a lot with. Only you can really judge his comfort level on a daily basis.


              • #8
                Ugh....it's tough and I've been through that twice with the slow decline. It's *extremely* hard on the humans as well as the horses. The emotional strain is enormous.
                Please do remember that the "final call" time is the owner's decision and not the vet's decision anymore. I would also decide to do this before he gets more bad days than good. It's not fair to the horse. Not that the vet's are forcing you to prolong things...but they're also not living with the stress and worry daily like you are and they're also only seeing the horse when they're called and not the daily things he goes through.
                It's going to take an enormous toll on you as you constantly stare and worry that the next bad thing is coming soon. And the worry that the next bad thing will be extrmely unpleasant for the horse too...and at that time it might be the "too late" that you've been trying to avoid.
                Best of luck with your decision...it's not easy and many of us kow how it is. Unfortunately if we own horses long enough...we *all* know what it's like and how hard it is. The price we pay for having them and loving them.
                You jump in the saddle,
                Hold onto the bridle!
                Jump in the line!


                • #9
                  I feel for you and all that you are going through. It is incredibly hard to know when it's time because the animals can't open their mouths and in perfect english say "it's time". You have to guess or wait for some magical sign and I have yet to figure out what the magical sign is. I waited too long with one of our house cats and then I felt guilty about that, too. Just know that we are all here supporting you and I hope there is a magical sign for you that makes the transition less painful. FWIW, I think animals are alot better about letting go than people are. Just do your best and I hope things get less stressful for you soon.


                  • #10
                    best quote I've ever read about this decision:

                    "better a week early than a day late"

                    I have lost a couple over the past five years and this little quote helped me do what was right even though it hurts like h@ll.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by MistyBlue View Post
                      Ugh....it's tough and I've been through that twice with the slow decline. It's *extremely* hard on the humans as well as the horses. The emotional strain is enormous.
                      Please do remember that the "final call" time is the owner's decision and not the vet's decision anymore. I would also decide to do this before he gets more bad days than good. It's not fair to the horse. Not that the vet's are forcing you to prolong things...but they're also not living with the stress and worry daily like you are and they're also only seeing the horse when they're called and not the daily things he goes through.
                      I agree with this too. It is your decision, not your vets. You know your horse best, and it's your call to make. I know it's hard without having your mom's full support, but I doubt you would lose her forever. She may be mad at you for a while and it will probably always be a sore spot (and will be one way or another), but she's an adult and will get over it. Sorry, but I feel she's being selfish in that respect.

                      Best of luck to you. It's awful to be there. I'm looking at a few seniors this year that I'm mentally getting ready to possibly have to make that call. Hopefully not, but they're starting to decline. I doubt any of them are going to be an easy call.

                      My gut is to stand with Simkie and the others, but as I'm sitting here and not there, I don't feel it's my place to say anything. You came here for support, not to be made feel worse.
                      Life is hard. After all, it kills you. - K. Hepburn


                      • #12
                        Aww. So sorry to hear about your boy. But I would tend to agree with Simkie. Better too early then too late. Best of luck to you.
                        Proud owner of Gus & Gringo.
                        See G2's blog


                        • Original Poster

                          I agree with all of you on the "Better a day early than a day too late" ... seriously. Maybe that didn't come across in my post. I know the day is coming. After all the information I got from the vet last night I know the day is closer than I previously thought, though I've been prepared to lose him by the end of this month anyway.

                          Thing is ... he's still in "more good days than bad" ... no, he's not being ridden, no he's not jumping like he did when he was younger, etc., but he's bright eyed, still shows his usual attitude, etc. He's slowed down. He's fading away. But it's not quite time... yet.

                          Last night was extra hard just because he had HAD a couple "nearly normal" days. He was moving freely, trotted around the arena, was fighting for his position in coming in rather than waiting until the end, etc. He obviously felt good. Then to go out and out of the blue face a brand new abcess and pain ... it's just wearing me down.

                          I've been very blunt with my mom about all this. I've told her the day is coming. I've pointed out I've spent $750 on vet bills for him in the last 2.5 months not to mention the supplies, the extra grain and bran mash, etc. She had thrown out a comment about "doing what was right for the horse, not what's right for your pocketbook" the first time I mentioned the bills. I told her last night if she doesn't know me well enough to know that me coming to terms with needing to euthanize has nothing to do with my own convenience than there's nothing I can do to convince her that I'm doing what's right for Rock. I've given up a clinic and eventing swho in Colorado this spring that I was really looking forward to because that money needed to go on his vet bills. When I make this call it's because of what's right for ROCKY. I'm not putting myself first here.

                          No ... I will not wait until he's miserable. And I don't want to wait until he is down and can't get up, or until he has a bad colic, or something that is going to be distressing and painful to him. I want him to go like the champion he is ... with dignity and grace.

                          It's just knowing when it's time to make that callt hat is the hardest.
                          If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                          ~ Maya Angelou


                          • #14
                            Tif Ann, the day I put Conny down, the vet thought we had a chance at salvaging him until that very last seizure. But I knew when I phoned the vet, it was Conny's last call.

                            He had a look that told me it was time. He looked so tired, old, worn out, and just ready to go, that I knew it was time to let him.

                            I've never questioned my decision to let him go, nor have I ever felt guilt about it.

                            You know your horse best, and I'd be willing to bet on the fact that you'll know by the look in his eyes when it's time.

                            It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but at the same time I knew it was the right one. You will too.
                            Homeopathy claims water can cure you since it once held medicine. That's like saying you can get sustenance from an empty plate because it once held food.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Tif_Ann View Post
                              It's just knowing when it's time to make that call that is the hardest.
                              I agree

                              I feel your pain and I'm so sorry that you have to go through this. I went through an abbreviated version of this with my horse last September. Alibar was diagnosed with lymphosarcoma and his body was filling with fluid at an alarming rate. Once we put a drain on him, he was heartbreakingly normal in his behavior. His body was failing, his appetite was failing, but he still had that sparkle in his eye to the very end.

                              Please spoil the heck out of your wonderful horse with the gummy worms and anything else he likes. If you can handle it emotionally, get a friend to take pictures of the two of you while he is still feeling pretty good.

                              It's a tough place to be and you have my best wishes.
                              Sarah K. Andrew | Twitter | Blog | Horses & Hope calendar | Flickr | Instagram


                              • #16
                                I say go with your gut and your horse. Don't listen to all the ones who say put them down when they get old and sick.

                                If the horse wants to live and you want the horse to live, then do what you can. Obviously, if he is in pain and you cannot control the pain and there is nothing to be done for him, then it is time.

                                But if the horse can be maintained and you are willing to spend the time and money to keep him going, and he eats well and can take his pain medication, I say wait.

                                And congradulations on keeping your cat for over 20 years and for keeping your horse when he is old and sick. Too many people give them away or put them down when they become a "nuisance".

                                I really believe that horses and their owners who have a strong bond know "when" to give up. When you reach that point you will know it.

                                Great of you to keep the old guy going so long. My vets and farriers over my lifetime have supported my decisions to keep my animals going, in fact, vets in atlanta told me NOT to put a cat to down at 13 and she recovered and lived to be 18 yoa, and my vet and farrier here told me not to put my mare down and she recovered.


                                • #17
                                  I'm sorry you're going through this. I lost my 9-year-old gelding after a year-long battle with an autoimmune disease. I hear you about the constant up-and-down roller coaster ride; it's incredibly taxing emotionally.

                                  I sincerely hope it doesn't come off as a lecture, because I never ever try to judge someone else's situation (I got plenty of unwelcome and unsolicited advice when I was going through this with my own horse), and I know how difficult this kind of situation can be, but you're right--it is hard to know when to make the call. I, too, would encourage you to think of sooner rather than later. When I was going through this, I had to consciously remind myself that horses value quality of life over quantity, and that they don't calculate good days versus bad days the way we do. It was very hard for me to have a younger horse euthanized, but I had to remember that I was the one thinking, "He's only nine!"--not him. Once it becomes clear that a horse isn't going to recover, we do have to think about the what-ifs. If we wait long enough, something will happen--and while it might then be clear that it's time, is that peace of mind for us worth it?

                                  Sorry, this is sounding lecture-y despite my efforts. I truly don't intend it to come off that way. I guess part of what I'm trying to express is that I don't actually believe that there is One Right Time to make this decision. Some people do, and that's fine. But I don't think we always magically KNOW, and I don't think we always suddenly see it in their eyes, and I don't think that means we're doing something wrong. Every situation is different. I think that as owners and caretakers, we have to use the reasoning skills we have to make the decision--and it IS a decision, which is always hard. I will say that I had my horse put down before things got really bad, and I have never once regretted that decision. He had already been through a lot of ups and downs with his illness and the treatments for it, and once I knew we were past the point of no return, there was no reason to wait for the inevitable catastrophic fall. Could I have waited longer? Well, yes; it wasn't an emergency situation. But it would have become one had I waited much longer, though I can't say exactly when. In his case, part of my decision was based on the knowledge that my horse's condition could worsen drastically with no warning. Is it possible he could have still had some good days left? I suppose so, but I will never be sorry I let my horse go when he was feeling okay, and was able to enjoy a last grooming and treat session rather than when he was in a lot of pain--as he certainly would have been at some point.

                                  Anyway, I will be thinking of you during this difficult time. You obviously care very much about your horse, and I'm sorry you're both going through this. Hugs to you.
                                  R D Lite "Reuben" (Put Em Up x Scheme for a Dream-Drouilly) 1997-2006


                                  • #18

                                    I lost my 14 year old gelding, whom I had owned for 10 years, to melanomas. I put him down when he needed to eat nearly 20lbs of grain a day to keep his weight on. He was happy, hungry and content to his last day, and I will absolutely never, ever regret putting him to sleep before he truly suffered a single day.

                                    He had lost a lot of weight, had tumors all over everywhere, had gone deaf from tumors in his ear canals, and generally looked like a lumpy shell of the gorgeous guy he used to be. The end for horses with melanoma is really unpleasant and painful if you let it be without support care, which you are definitely giving.

                                    This is such a personal decision, and I'd be glad to share more via email if you'd like. All I can offer is that you do not want your last memories of your guy to be of him suffering, and as others have said, better a week early than a day late.

                                    Hugs and best wishes during your sad time. You are right, it is much harder to watch a beloved friend decline and have to be the strong one to make the decision to spare them pain at the "right time" than to make an obvious decision during a moment of trauma.

                                    ETA: When after a vet appointment it became apparent there was nothing else we could do for my guy, I set a date 2 weeks out for the "day." I spoiled the heck out of him, loved him, rode him bareback (lightly - he loved this), grazed him for hours on end, and just generally did what I needed to do to say goodbye. He had some good days and bad days (healthwise) in the last 2 weeks, and his last day was a good one.
                                    Last edited by jackalini; Feb. 17, 2009, 02:43 PM. Reason: add in more info


                                    • #19
                                      I have to agree with the sooner rather than later crowd. A few years ago we had a boarder with advanced melanomas just like your guy. Two vets told her there was nothing further we could do but she couldn't bring herself to make the decision. A few weeks later the poor guy came in from the pasture bleeding to death internally and through his rectum. It was a terrible end for him and for all of us. Please don't wait so long that you have to go through what we have gone through, those ulcering melanomas could change character any time now. I'm surprised the vets haven't mentioned that possibility.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Tif_Ann View Post
                                        It's just hard watching him waste away.
                                        I completely understand your sentiments. It IS hard to watch them waste away. I had my old guy from 6 months old until the day he died at 26 years old (in June). Even when he wasn't sick, it was hard to watch him slowly get old.

                                        I wish you all the strength and am keeping you, Rocky and your family in my thoughts and prayers!