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Hard Conversation About Euthanasia-Update

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    Hard Conversation About Euthanasia-Update

    As many of you know, I have a 25 year old gelding that I have owned since he was 7 years old. I am disabled, but despite my many physical shortcomings, this horse has kept me safe over all those years. He was diagnosed with IR and Cushing's several years ago after two years of mystery illnesses and lameness. He responded well to Prascend the first two or three years. Then a couple of years ago he had a significant bout of laminitis. He was very lame for about 6 weeks, then he pulled out of it. But he never really returned to the same level of health. He would be stiff. He would be ocuhy. He would be good. Then back to being sore. His hair coat is a mess, with the typical Cushing's problems. He needs to be full body clipped every three months.

    My best friend recently had a health crisis with her 32 year old gelding. And after two weeks of intensive care at the vet hospital, she had him euthanized. I went to hang out with her there about a week into his illness and I was shocked at how horrible he was. He was hooked up to IVs and since he was refusing to eat and drink, they were feeding him through a stomach tube. He had horrible diarrhea, and was very lethargic and dull. I understood why my friend was throwing every veterinary advantage at him, but for me he was past the point where I would have chosen to let him go. They didn't really know what was causing his illness, and were just treating symptoms.

    This experience has made me wonder about my own decisions with my own old guy. I had decided after the last bad laminitis episode that I would not take heroic measures if there was a health crisis with him. His last set of blood work came back with high ACTH levels, so we increased his Prascend to one and a half pills daily last May. This is the upper end of dosage for a horse his size. But despite that his coat still looks weird and dull (he has been clipped five times this year). He has many days where he is bright eyed, but there are also days where he is a little dull eyed and uninterested. His appetite comes and goes. Sometimes his hocks are a little puffy and he is slow to get up. And other days he snorts and blows like the Arabian he is.

    I don't want to wait until his quality of life is poor all the time, but I feel horrible even thinking about it since there are days when he is the same pushy, loving and engaged horse he was when he was much younger. Since our boarding barn drama and all the changes that necessitated, I worry constantly. Is he getting his medication? Is his hay getting soaked? Is he going out on the dry lot? How much higher can we raise the dose? What if we have a cold winter?

    And there are times when I even think that life would be simpler if he were gone. I wouldn't have to worry about what might happen. I wouldn't have to worry about being able to afford his next health issue. I think about how uncomplicated my mare is, since she is younger and healthy (knock wood, I don't want to catch the attention of the Horse Gods).

    I have always said that it is better to help them over the Rainbow Bridge a day too soon than a day too late. I want him to leave this world with his dignity intact. I am a heartless witch for even thinking this when he still has a lot of good days?
    Last edited by IdahoRider; Oct. 17, 2019, 10:57 PM.

    I never got the impression from horses that some good days made up for their mostly constant pain/disability.

    Horses live longer with modern veterinary medicine. Many decades ago your horse would have been considered OLD.

    It is so hard to let go, and it does not make it easy, but often the best thing you can do for a horse is to put him down while he still can enjoy life somewhat. It really hurts but it is part of being a good horse-person.


      You are a kind and loving owner to be thinking about this now. I have a retiree who is much younger than yours, but I started thinking about these things at the same time that I decided to retire her. She's been through a lot of physical pain in her life, and I'm not willing to subject her to more. The moment she seems less than thrilled with life, I'll send her on ahead. (And I'm lucky to have a vet who shares my philosophy.)

      People often ask if the horse is having more bad days than good days, when they start this sort of conversation. Personally, if we get to where the horse had 50+% bad days, I'd be disappointed in myself for letting it go so long. Is he having mostly good days? How bad are the bad days? That's where I'd start. Hugs to you -- it's always hard.

      Side note: I'm not familiar with an upper limit for Prascend, other than the owner's wallet. (And I sympathize!) I manage a horse who gets 3mg/day -- she's small, 950-1000 lbs -- and will likely need more in the future. My understanding was that the right dose is what keeps their ACTH in range.


        Just two thoughts...where I live, we often choose the timing of the euthanasia "before winter". I don't know what part of the country you are in, but around here it gets very cold, making the aches and pains worse. And....:"better a day too soon than a day too late".


          Horses don't know tomorrow... they only know today.

          I agree with better a week too soon than a day too late.

          Something I heard more recently, you don't want their last day to be their worst day.

          For one of my mares, the decision was as HPFarmette said, before winter. I can't imagine having a suffering horse who can't get up because the ground is frozen and they are cold.

          You should not feel guilty about saving the money or rushing the decision. Listen to your boy and see what he tells you...

          Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely. An observation that a person's sense of morality lessens as his or her power increases. Lord Acton


            Original Poster

            I am in Idaho. We certainly get cold, with snow and ice off and on. Last winter was pretty mild. The one before that was pretty stinking cold and the one three years ago was a nightmare.

            I think he still has more good days than bad. The bad days just seem worse now and it is taking longer for him to rebound. Today he was happily roaming his pasture. Last week he was standing at the gate, kind of zoned out and totally shut down to everything going on around him. He didn't want a cookie. He didn't want his hay. I brought him in and he just stood in a corner with his head down. It is hard to describe. He just seems shut off a lot. There have been times when he had to struggle to get up. And I am noticing that he no longer has shavings in his tail and mane, so I don't think he is laying down inside at all.

            He doesn't tolerate the Prascend very well. The veil lasts forever with him. But up until a year or two ago the benefits far outweighed the negatives. It is discouraging to me that he hasn't responded as well as we had hoped to the increase.


              In your shoes, I would be leaning toward putting him down before winter sets in. I guess the question is how often does he seem zoned out and uninterested? If it's a frequent occurrence, even if it's not the majority of the time, I would say euthanasia is the kind choice.

              Hugs, because it sucks, no matter which way you decide. You will second guess yourself no matter what you do, but if you do euthanize him, one thing you know for sure is that he will not have any further bad days.



                Originally posted by HPFarmette View Post
                Just two thoughts...where I live, we often choose the timing of the euthanasia "before winter". I don't know what part of the country you are in, but around here it gets very cold, making the aches and pains worse. And....:"better a day too soon than a day too late".

                I also live in an area where the elderly and ill horses are often put down "before winter" because our winters are long, harsh, and bitterly cold. Perhaps that's why, but honestly I associate fall with being a rather pleasant time of year to pass. Summer is winding down again, the fields are golden brown and the leaves are changing colors. The weather is pleasantly cool, the briskness is livening instead of painful. It's a sweet spot to pause and say good-bye before the suffering of winter.

                And on the more emotionally sterile and practical side of things... it's, well, easier to deal with on almost all fronts in any season but winter. When the time comes in the middle of winter it's almost always in the middle of a blizzard or ice storm and the vet can't get there for hours or days. Options for what to do with the remains can be limited due to difficulty of travel and and burials when the ground is frozen under several inches of ice and snow isn't always possible. Where I am, the only option you may have for a horse that dies in the winter is to wait until the rendering plant can come pick up the remains, which might be several days. Not a lot of people find that to be a very pleasant way to handle the remains of a well-loved horse, though.

                I also believe that it's better a day too soon than a day too late. I think it's very kind to let a horse go when they're still having more good days than bad, but you know that time is limited and soon they'll be having many more bad days than good.


                  As someone pointed out a while back, we don't want our horse's last hours/days/weeks to become the worst hours/days/weeks of their lives.
                  Who would want that to happen?

                  When time is approaching and closer and closer, only you and your vet are the ones that need to consult and decide when the time is to let him go.


                    I think I may be atypical in this, but I don't have a lot of tolerance for repeated bad days in a horse for whom the future is just going to be more and more bad days with fewer and fewer good days. Having once waited too long (my opinion), I'm pretty sensitive about not ever doing that again. Based on what you've posted here, I would call the vet tomorrow and make the appointment.
                    "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
                    that's even remotely true."

                    Homer Simpson


                      When I was facing the end for my first horse people didn't talk about such things. There were no internet bulletin boards to ask such questions. Even ten years ago we tended to not discuss euthanasia on internet forums. Ten years ago I euthanized my second horse and started a blog about the process. I also started talking about it online whenever the subject came up.

                      Now we do discuss these things online and in real life. I am so glad we can because I remember how hard it was way back when I faced the decision the first time. It was the first time - I had no pets as a child. My first horse was my first loss of an animal.

                      I had a subscription to Horse & Rider as a teenager. The Me &My Horse article was often someone's tale of heroic measures they performed to drag out some poor horse's miserable existence. It scarred me for life. I promised my first horse that when it was his time I would give him the summer and let him go before winter.

                      My first horse had bone spurs in every joint space below his knees in both front legs. His last spring he struggled with the. cold damp for two months. I did some math. Two months in the spring, at least two months in the fall, plus any warmer days in the winter and suddenly I was looking at a horse who was very likely to be enduring existence for five months of the year. I couldn't do it to him and I euthanized him before winter.

                      It was the hardest thing I'd had to do. Everyone I knew questioned my decision. They asked if I had tried this or that treatment. But I knew my horse. He was as stoic as they come and wouldn't admit to anything.

                      My vet asked "Are you sure?" when I made the appointment, and the following spring told me that he'd had no doubt that I knew when I said it was time.

                      Here's a link to my blog. I hope you will read this last post if nothing else. It is the lessons my two taught me about knowing when it's time.




                        It's a hard call, no question. I don't think there's necessarily a wrong answer either. Putting him down now, where you can control the end, which would relieve you of some responsibilities, and him of a lot of bad days, is a good answer. If he's happy some days, giving it a little longer is okay too. But, how many bad days will there be before you say enough, and by then will there be no more good days?

                        It's fair to consider too that he could go into crisis at a very difficult time. I was very concerned that the oldster I was caring for, would go into crisis right when I needed to take a trip, or when I was away. Or on Christmas eve, when I had company and when the vet wouldn't come.

                        LOL, I had made the decision that I wanted to put him down before the holidays and then he perked right up. He went about another 6 months past that point.

                        Maybe it's time for a middle decision. Maybe not next week, but maybe sometime this fall.

                        Hugs to you no matter what.
                        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                          I think it sounds like you are slowly realizing that he needs to be put down sooner rather than later. It’s torture to make the decision, but once made and the vet called I’m able to stop thinking in circles and see things more clearly. In the week or so leading up to the appointment I find that I become very comfortable with my choice and the timing, and when the day comes I’m feeling relief- no longer questioning if I’ve made the right choice.
                          I suggest making an appointment and just living with the decision for a week or so leading up to the scheduled day. You may find that taking action to call the vet provides clarity. You can always cancel a day or two before if you feel like you need to delay.


                            Quite frankly death in life is inevitable. it is a one way street. The horse gets older every day. Places with real winter are very hard on old animals. Give it some more thought. {{{hugs}}} We are facing it here now, two old dogs and an old horse.
                            The cue card kid just held up an empty cue card. For a minute there I thought I had lost my sense of humor. --- Red Skelton


                              I have a lot of conversations about euthanasia, because part of what veterinarians do is ease our patients out of this life and out of pain. I think an easy way out with someone who loves you BEFORE you hit rock bottom is a very loving gift.

                              The Journeys Quality of Life Calculator online, while geared to small animals, is a nice assessment because it also asks how stressful the animal's condition is for you, the owner.

                              I know it's never easy, and we all second guess--did I wait too long? Did I call it quits too soon? Should I have tried One More Thing?--but you have to make the best choice you can based on love and forgive yourself for doing it.

                              I know how much it sucks--with one of my (Cushing's) dogs who quit responding to conventional treatment, and didn't improve on alternative medications either, I kept thinking: just have one more good day. One good day so I can euthanize you when you aren't miserable.

                              You just do the best you can and try not to beat yourself up. If you board, as I do, hauling in to Idaho Equine was a very sympathetic experience and they are set up to handle disposal--sucks to think of it in practical terms, but it was simpler (and less expensive) than to euthanize and arrange disposal myself.

                              It can be hard for people to see, but euthanasia is generally a premed cocktail to make the animal feel very groovy, pain and stress free, followed by an IV overdose of pentobarbital, a drug we once used to induce anesthesia and still use to treat some seizures. There's nothing painful or scary about the pentobarbital, but a premed helps ease the brain's transition from awake to out, so it's a smoother process, and it takes away stress of restraint.


                                Original Poster

                                Originally posted by cattywampus View Post
                                If you board, as I do, hauling in to Idaho Equine was a very sympathetic experience and they are set up to handle disposal--sucks to think of it in practical terms, but it was simpler (and less expensive) than to euthanize and arrange disposal myself.
                                Actually, Pete Knox at Idaho Equine is my vet.


                                  Sheila, I have been there, and I am there again.

                                  Flame was a beautiful 12.2 Welsh pony with an enormous attitude and we loved that little bugger like nothing else. He and my daughter had many adventures, and he loved her equally. He had a cresty neck since we got him at age 8, and by age 22, despite careful management, we could not keep him sound on Prascend. We made the decision to put him down a day too early. Even my vet, whom Flame cow-kicked the first time he worked on him lol, said he was dreading the day. I'm still choked up typing this, but I don't regret my decision one iota.

                                  A year before that our beautiful 24 year old QH colicked and I ended up taking him to the clinic and payed a pretty dime before he ultimately passed on his own, and imo suffered way too much in the process. I vowed never to do that again.

                                  Last night I found my 40-something QH mix in distress. I called the vet and we tubed him and gave him banamine and this morning he's better, but with a diminished appetite. I will not hesitate to make the call if he goes into distress again. It's so hard, but they are such stoic animals, and I don't want to extend his suffering a moment longer than I can help.

                                  Good luck with your decision, there is no wrong one. Do what is in your heart.

                                  Best wishes to you.
                                  Graphic Design & Websites


                                    We just went through this on Friday.

                                    The horse in question was 25, and in good health until he wasn't. We thought he had a bacterial infection, which we treated, and he rallied for a bit...until he didn't. It turned out he had cancer.

                                    I'm very glad I decided to stay conservative, denied the opportunity for a trip to the veterinary teaching hospital multiple hours away, and let him have a quiet, dignified passing at home, surrounded by the people he loved.

                                    I find often when I'm asking this question, I already know the answer.


                                      I agree with everyone else - you're right to start thinking about this now, and I have to lean towards putting him down sooner rather than when circumstances force your hand. I've been there for the emergency vet visits when there is no choice, and I've been there for the moments when you have to decide what's in the best interest of the animal.

                                      My vet and I had this conversation about my old dog this spring. The question I had to ask was, "Will he ever be better than he is right now?" The vet's answer was "No - in fact, this is as good as he will ever be again, and it goes downhill from here." That was that. I buried Doofus that afternoon. But that question really helped clarify the options for me.

                                      It's not easy either way. Hugs to you.


                                        I just want to offer sympathy. This is the hardest part about owning animals. I put one of my elder dogs down last week. It was incredibly tough coming to a decision. I know I did the right thing, but I still wonder if it was too soon, or too late. I have another elder dog that is really declining in health and it's tough thinking about her as well, so soon after putting our other guy down.

                                        We also had a scare with one of our senior horses and had to have a hard conversation about what we would do if we needed to put a horse down. Only having two horses, and not in a position to quickly purchase another, what are our options?

                                        Again, this to me is the hardest part of owning animals. Wanting to do right by them, keeping them healthy and comfortable, and trying not to be selfish when that time comes.

                                        Hugs. It's so hard.