Coping with euthanasia? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 03-20-2017, 09:31 PM Thread Starter
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Coping with euthanasia?

Hey all,

Long story coming your way. Feel free to skip to the bottom for the TLDR version.

I think we all know in the back of our heads that eventually euthanasia is something we may need to deal with when owning animals of any sorts. I've been lucky enough to never have to make 'the call' so far with any of my animals (short of a very sickly stray cat) until now. And now has come about 25 years sooner than I would have hoped with this particular horse.

Quick back story is I found the colt of my dreams just over a year ago and brought him home at 7 months old. A beautiful black colt with an exquisite mind. The best mind on any horse (young and old) that I've met in my years being in horses...truth be told, as crazy as this will probably make me sound, it feels like he's been here before; an old soul, no doubt in my mind. August of last year I was faced with the most devastating diagnosis of a spinal cord injury. Call it Wobbler's syndrome if you like. My colt has the same symptoms, vet and I talked of the same surgery for the condition, this is the best way for me to describe his condition. He was nearly recumbent at the time of the injury and is now likely a 3 - 3.5 on the neurological scale after 6 months of nearly complete confinement.

Here's more back story of what was going on, later in the picture thread, so not to drag this thread on too badly: New colt!

Now, I'm faced with a coming 2 year old stallion who is, though mostly extraordinarily well behaved, becoming increasingly agitated and excited (so the teeth and hooves come out). He cannot be gelded due to his condition (he cannot undergo any kind of anaesthesia or tranquillizers as he is already unstable on his feet) and I can't find a vet who would consider trying (not that I've honestly asked - they've all just agreed with me that it is unsafe when i mention such). Therefore, handling is an issue - proper discipline for bad behaviour is difficult in the event that he recoils and falls. Also, being cooped up for 6.5 months...when he gets to go in the arena on a halter and line it is like flying a 900b kite with testosterone that might crash into a wall or fall at any time. Completely dangerous. He cannot be turned out as he will trip and fall on uneven footing. Rain will cause slips and falls...perhaps into the fence, or a shed, and he may break a leg or get attacked by a pack of coyotes while down. I refuse to risk coming out to the field to find him down in any of those situations - it is not fair to him to go through that. Though perhaps worst case scenario, those are all real possibilities I've discussed with many people. Not to mention that I'm sure he would feel very insecure because his legs don't work correctly and he can't have a herd to protect him (in the event that he is chased....he'll fall), which would probably eat away his confidence. Further, he has a half brother with the same condition - likely a genetic condition that predisposed them to this injury in some way. We didn't make the link until my colt presented the condition a few months after his older brother.

He's been locked away in hopes of healing enough to be close to 'normal' and able to handle turnout. My vet had said you never know how well they will recover until you take the time to let the injury heal, so I took the time and sadly we have decided he will not get better than he is now. His recovery has been plateaued for months. Now that I can see that he will not recover any further and will never be able to handle any sort of turnout (alone or in a herd), it is not fair to keep him locked away much longer...

He is an unbelievably exquisite animal. Truly my heart horse in every way. Now I need to make the call to let him go peacefully and with dignity - not in a field with a broken leg and being attacked by wild animals. I know this is best for him in the long run. What quality of life is it to live in a box or in danger outside? I need to make the call to the vet. I know what I want to happen for arrangements but I just can't make that call and I don't know how to. I think I'm waiting to feel okay with the decision which will only come after some time, I'm sure.

Does anyone have some advice on how to make the call? How to cope with letting him go just as his life is starting? I feel like hearing from others who have dealt with euthanasia might help...I don't really know. It's so hard to make the call to the vet when I look at him standing in his box eating, happy, looking perfectly normal, until he moves and he's anything but normal...


TLDR: I have a coming 2 y/o colt with a spinal cord injury resulting in a permanent condition of instability on his feet. Basically Wobbler's syndrome. It is best to euthanize him, for his long term quality of life and also for the safety of myself and those who may have to handle him in the future. But I just can't make the call and don't know how to cope. Looking for advice on how to cross over the barrier and make the call and how to cope with losing my heart horse so young.

Thanks for reading.
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post #2 of 18 Old 03-20-2017, 10:51 PM
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I can sympathize with you on making that call so when you go pick up that phone only think of the quality of life your horse is having right now and the fact that he probably will for the rest of his life. Do not think about how you're going to feel to lose him. If it helps maybe schedule the appointment about a week out from your call so that you'll have that time to say your goodbyes and come to terms with it. Part of being a good, kind and fair owner is the ability to put the animal's welfare before ours. I'm sorry he was not able to recover enough to live as a pasture pet and I do believe that euthanasia is kinder than making him live in a stall alone for the rest of his life.

R.I.P. JC 5/19/85 - 12/9/14. You made my life better.
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post #3 of 18 Old 03-20-2017, 11:59 PM
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It's the call that all of us dread, but know we have to make. I agree with Jc,^^
spend the time you need with him, feeding treats, loving on him, and most of all: thanking him for the joy he has given you. That's how I handle it. You will grieve, you will cry, and you will miss him. Some owners choose to be there for the end, some do not, either way is ok. I personally choose not to, as I don't want that moment to be my last memory of my beloved horse. I've said my goodbyes and had my vet cover my horse with a tarp.

But as you have acknowledged, his future quality of life is not the life he deserves. We are left to make the decision because we are stewards of their care. I'm so very sorry for you and your beautiful boy.
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post #4 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 01:19 AM
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Something I try to think about is that this emotional pain is not avoidable. Whether you go through it today, in six weeks, or in twenty years, when you have an animal you love it is something you will have to go through. Sometimes I think we let ourselves believe we can avoid the pain somehow by putting it off. It's like scheduling a surgery. You know it will cause you pain, but it needs to be done so you make the call. At the time of the phone call you don't think about the pain, and try to pretend it is only a dental exam.

Another thing to consider is that this is a noble and good thing you are doing. You will always know you did the right thing for this horse, and it will feel good to you at some point in the future. Not that you lost the horse, not how much you miss him, but that you were strong enough and cared about him enough to do the right thing even though it was hard. It's a noble act that is one of the most unselfish things we can do in life. We would like to keep an animal around longer, but we put their needs before our own and we do the right thing for their sake.

Selfish people put their own needs first and keep animals alive when the animals are suffering because they don't wish to cause themselves emotional distress. Unselfish people put the animal's needs first even if it is very painful to do so.

How I deal with it is by being honest. I know it has to be done, and I allow myself to cry, hurt, grieve and be depressed. These are our friends and family members, and it is natural and true to admit you are sad, to allow yourself to be depressed for as long as you need to be, and to not feel ashamed that you care so much. People sometimes feel you should move on sooner than you are ready to when it is an animal rather than a human. What I believe is that it hurts the same.
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post #5 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 08:06 AM
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I haven't had to make that call yet with a horse, but I have with a dog, and it really sucks making the appointment and choosing the time that an animal you love will die. It just really sucks and there's no way to make it less sucky. However, when we love animals, we have to do what's best for them and not what's best for us. Big hugs to you and I'm sorry you're in this situation.
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post #6 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 08:17 AM
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Unfortunately, this is the responsibility part of animal husbandry, regardless of goldfish, dog, bird or livestock. When we take on the responsibility of ownership we have to do so knowing that WE must make that decision for the animal when it's 'time'. Time can come in many different ways, age, disease, accident or quality of life. Animals in the wild don't depend on us to make that call, they get killed and eaten by the predator who picks the least fit and takes them down. When we bring them into our 'civilized' way of living, we remove the predator threat and thus, have to accept that we now owe it to them to give them a loving end to their lives, whether it comes early or late.

Your horse sounds desperately uncomfortable and unhappy. Give him peace. And KNOW that every person on here dreads that day as much as you do, and the we all wish you the peace that comes with knowing you've done all you can do and have had the kindness to let him go on his journey. I would rather make that call too soon than to make it even a minute too late.

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post #7 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 09:40 AM
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Agree with so many others who have posted. It is the hardest call any animal owner will ever have to make. Remember horses live in the moment - there is no judgement. Quality of life has to account for something and it does not sound likes his quality of life is 100%.

God Bless you for thinking of him and not yourself.
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post #8 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 10:17 AM
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My heart breaks for you. But I'll tell you a quick story: I had a dog for 18 years. Got her when I was 8 and lost her when I was 26. She was my partner through difficult times and through every big life transition. Stayed pretty healthy until the end, amazingly, but started to have mini-strokes and get disoriented. I made the call to have her euthanized since each stroke was taking away her quality of life. She's lost her hearing and her eyesight was almost gone. She was confused a lot. The night before she was due to be put to sleep, I put her out to pee and she just left. She wandered off into the woods. We looked for her for over two weeks, combing those woods over and over again. It was fall so cold nights. She probably didn't survive more than a couple of days and was most likely killed brutally by a coyote. I always regretted that I didn't give her the peaceful end she deserved and her memory haunts me to this day because I never got closure.

Even in a stall, your horse could fall down and hurt himself from what you describe. It might take hours of excruciating pain before you find him and can get a vet out to put him out of his misery. He is unhappy. You are making the right decision despite his young age. When you are in that moment, tell yourself this is better than letting it go on with the risk of things ending very painfully. He won't know it's coming and you will get closure, whether you choose to be with him or not. So sorry it had to be this way.
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post #9 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 02:20 PM
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Agree it is the un selfish and very difficult call, all of us, esp those of us who keep an animal long enough, have to eventually make
I guess one of the up side of having raised horses, is that I sold most of them before they ever got to an age, where I had to make that discison, but, with those I did, it was also extremely hard, as they were the ones I had kept, that became so very special to me that had formed a deep partnership, over the years I rode them
I do know That I perhaps let Einstein stay too long, as I almost had him put down a year before the sad day finally became inevitable. Did he have quality time during that last year? I like to think so, as he became better, appeared happy in the pasture, but I often wondered had I been too selfish, just wanting him to be there to great me, to run my hands over,as in the end, it had been more obvious to my family then to me, that it was past time
Yes, there were other hroses that I had to put down, and those incidents were also very hard-a young stallion that had sarcoid become very aggressive and malignant, a young gelding that had residual damage to tendons,from a serious bout of cellulitis, and my old reining mare, but none were as hard as having to put Einstein down.
I know it sounds corny, from someone who raised hroses, but he was that one very special horse that many claim, came into their life
It was true. I started and showed him,w hile I was on chemo for breast cancer, and he helped me through that cancer year more then any other being. I rode him on many trails, showed him and he was always willing
Yes, you are making the right choice, hard as it is. It is also a 'gift we can grant our hroses, that often is still denied to us humans-the right to die, when life no longer has quality, and in a dignified manner
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post #10 of 18 Old 03-21-2017, 02:33 PM
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I'm very sorry you have to go through this. It is very sad to put an animal down. It's never an easy phone call or decision. However, it is what is best for him at this time. You have done all you can and it is not much of a life being stuck in a box all day and not out with other horses because of danger. You are definitely making the right choice. It's not an easy choice by any means, but it will let him go peacefully rather than going in a lot of pain/more pain.

So sorry again. It is going to be very hard making that call, but I'd also make it sooner rather than later for his sake, so he is no longer suffering. Spend as much time with him & keep him as comfortable as you can until they arrive. Do not blame yourself for this either. You are doing the right thing. Would be selfish to keep him going on like this forever- which is the opposite in what you are doing. You are not selfish and you are going to let him go peacefully. It's never easy to make this decision.

My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.
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