Heaves and Euthanasia - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 09:11 AM Thread Starter
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Heaves and Euthanasia

Alright, for starters please be kind in this post as this is a very hard question for me to even ask. I have a 17 year old Quarab mare who was diagnosed with heaves last summer. I have done the best I can; round bales were removed, she has been fed soaked square bales, 24/7 turn out, good grain (with oil to reduce any dust), pine shaving bedding when she needs to come in, light exercise once a week, a shot of Dex when she needs it, etc.

Her breathing is not nearly as bad as it was but it's still not healthy of course. She has an occasional flare up, mostly when the pollen count is high or the farmers harvest. However, she looks terrible. She is fed Kalm Ultra (12% fat), has free choice soaked hay all day long and also has soybean oil daily. She has been turned out on pasture when it is available also and has access to a high performance mineral block. I have tried adding rice bran for extended periods of time, also, and no difference. Ever since she started showing symptoms my easy keeper has been skeletal.

We have tried breathing treatments, supplements, you name it. The only thing that helps her is Dex but my vet advised me to only give it when necessary because of the harsh side effects; she only needs one ever few months.

All this being said, she struggled last winter. I can tell that even though her breathing is getting better she is terribly weak. Her winter coat barely grew in even though we had a horribly harsh winter. The footing in my pasture isn't bad but if the ground froze she had a really hard time navigating; she had to be stalled most.of the winter for these reasons, and no matter how clean or dust free I keep my barn she still coughs if she's in, even on the end stall by the door. I hoped I'd be able to help her rehab this summer, maybe put some weight on her and get her in better health. But nothing is helping still:(

My husband wants me to put her down when the weather starts getting cold again. I told him I can blanket her, try to make the pasture footing better, maybe talk to the vet about trying a new med, but he says no. We have 2 kids under 5 years old and two other horses who are healthy. He says I've done everything I can for her but to continue dumping money into her isn't fair to our family, especially since there is no cure for heaves and she will eventually die from it.

I know I could try to re-home her but I'm terrified to even try. He said to list her online for $100 to good home only, but anyone could buy her for that and ship her off for meat:( Even the rescues have told me if they can't rehomed her they will put her down.

Has anyone put a horse down for heaves? I feel so dang guilty; I know I could do more but guys, I have 2 kids. She's up to date on all her dental, shots, farrier work, even chiropractic work and has great care, I just can't afford expensive meds and breathing treatments. I'm scared if I try to re-home her she'll end up on a meat truck or she'll die at a rescue surrounded by strangers. My husband says the kindest thing now is to let her enjoy the rest of summer with her daughter and put her down when the weather gets cold so she doesn't have to struggle again. Is he right? I don't want to let her go but I don't want to make my girl suffer:(

Please be kind in your feedback, I've been working closely with my vet and doing the best I can afford to do. Pic is from before she got sick.

IMG_1155_1560777163142.jpg
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post #2 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 09:27 AM
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I am so sorry you are having to go through this. ((Hugs))

The right time is so hard....but I think sooner is better than later. Horses donít know. They only know the pain, not that we are trying to help them. A horse death is rarely easy....they donít just lay down and slip away peacefully, even in euthanasia.
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post #3 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 09:59 AM
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There are worse things than death.

Do not give her away it already sounds like you are doing everything you can for here management, so I'm not sure what someone else can do for her. No one else is going to have the personal investment that will allow them to go the extra mile like you will.

If winter is too hard and your finances can't manage it, no shame in euthanizing. It's better than you bankrupting your family or her doing down in the middle of winter.
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post #4 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 10:04 AM
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I agree with the others. A good friend of mine had a mare with heaves. She retired her from riding but always struggled to keep weight on her. I am sorry to say that my friend let her mare struggle on for a couple of years too long. Her horse struggled with weight gain, hoof issues and never really looked healthy that last couple of years of her life. In my friends defense she always said but she eats - and yes she did but she was not thriving or healthy. Eventually the mare went down and just could not get up - even though she struggled and tried. it was horrible to see and stand there and wait for the vet (I was there as moral support)

You know your horse and obviously you are doing what you can to keep it healthy. Sometimes it is the right thing to let them go. Hugs to you.
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post #5 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 10:14 AM
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I'm so sorry, heaves is tough on everyone to watch it progress.
It was not my horse I watched suffer and deteriorate but never the less a animal I loved dearly...

I am not understanding your vet saying to only administer 1 shot every few months...
I'm hoping that is a typo...
Honestly it makes no sense to me to not give what aids and gives some relief to the animal often enough they feel "better" or as good as possible under the conditions.
My understanding is the shot is less effective as pills, needing 2x as much to do the same as pills.
The horse I lost to this was on medication every other day, should of been every day at the end.
Yes, it was Dex he took...
5 pills mornings in feed. I would of done that every morning and pushed for doubling the dosage if it would of given one breath free and easy to the horse.
To me, what is the difference if the side effects are harsh...
I don't mean to be mean but she is dying...make her days on earth as stress free and painless as possible.
If you were to give her more medication you might have her till early fall if she is failing rapidly now struggling to get the air exchange...maybe but no guarantee.
She will not eat if she can not breathe so she will slowly starve.
If this is what you are facing, her decline is now rapid, then yes...free her from her torture and put her to sleep.
Don't make her suffer through heat and humid weather of summer if she so struggles now.
Bring your vet back for a evaluation...
Listen to what he says...
Can giving more medication daily help her or not?
Is she struggling to breathe just existing forget moving around?
Is it time to let her go?
If you ask they will tell you but you must be the one to initiate that conversation and face, accept their professional opinion.
I would far rather release her now than watch her die a bad death and that is what you may face over the summertime with weather as it is...
3 months sooner...is that really going to make a difference?
Your children will remember her as she is now, or what she is going to become in a few months..that is not a memory I would want my children to see, to remember their pet struggling so to breathe.
There is a dignity in death you can give her now or watch her decline & demise...
I would far rather be one day early than one day late and she suffer terribly...
With what you write, the time is now or very soon not months or years away unless your vet knows of some other way to reverse effects of this horrid disease..
Once you lose ground it doesn't come back, not with this issue..the lungs are shot and the heart is under tremendous strain as is every vital organ in the body.
A very hard decision...but you know in your heart the answer she, your beloved pet needs.
Hugs...many of us have walked this path and some will walk it again.
They say to truly love is to set free...for them.


I would not re-home her or sell her, period.

Put her to sleep and let her rest peacefully not face a potential horrible future at hands unknown what they shall do to her.
If she is as bad as you say, any rescue if they took her is putting her to sleep.
That decision is yours.
Do you pass her off to someone and hope she is kindly treated her last days or do you make certain her last days and moments are with those she knows and trusts...and she is seen off to safe pastures with peaceful forever sleep.


hlg.
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post #6 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 10:52 AM Thread Starter
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My vet is very practical and blunt. In his eyes she's done for; there isn't any curing it and he doesn't see the point in me medicating her at all. However, I pushed and got the Dex. Her breathing on a day to day basis isn't terrible; just a bit of mucus and a little rattle, but no heave line or anything. The only time I give her a shot is when she has a heave line, which is generally every few months. He always stresses the side effects of the shot and says it's really hard on her so I try not to give it more often than I have to.

The hardest part of all is that she has good days. Sometimes I'll take her for a little ride on our trails and she loves it, she prances and sticks her tail up and acts like a cranky Arab. But if you let her trot, or go up a hill, it sounds like she's dying. She mentally still wants to be what she was but she's gotten so much weaker and it's devastating to watch because she looks so confused.

Winter is what scares me because she did go down last winter, and she hasn't gained any weight this summer so I think this winter will be even worse:(
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post #7 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 11:30 AM
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If you want to look at my past posts, the most recent one should be about a horse that I found with struggling with very advanced heaves. She was 30, and struggled with heaves for at least the past five years. Medications were no longer working, and she could no longer be managed. The owner was holding onto the good days that she did have, and that led to her having to be shot in an emergency situation.

It sucks, but many times horse owners have to be advocates for their horse's quality of life. If their quality of life is declining and can't be improved, you have to make the call. She may be good most days, but what happens when you've waited too long? I believe that it is way better being "too early" rather than "too late". You will know when the time is right.
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post #8 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 11:34 AM
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If you can hear a rattle when she's breathing just standing or walking around, she's struggling. She's working so hard to breathe that she can't keep weight on. She gets weak because she's not getting any air. She's confused for lack of oxygen. I would give her a dose of Dex, let her have a few good days, and put her down before she suffers more. There are worse things than an easy death.

If you really want to try, get a second opinion from another vet and see if Dex with pills 1-2x daily helps her. I still don't think your husband is wrong. Letting her go before she struggles with cold weather and before she bankrupts your family is a good idea. Not an easy decision, but the right one.

I'm sorry for your horse's condition and your anguish with this. Heaves is devastating, and watching a horse die frantically gasping for breath from it is traumatic. Do not let your mare get to that point.
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post #9 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 12:14 PM
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When it comes to end of life I would suggest a second opinion (for your sanity). See another vet for treatment options. If they agree with the first vet then I think it will make you feel less stressed over the decision that you have to make. It will help to take away some of the "what-ifs".

I have a friend that had a horse with heaves, he was told to put it down. They ended up moving. I can't remember if they put him in a grassy pasture or took him off the grass and put him in a dirt paddock. I just remember that moving him made a world of difference. They also soaked his hay in a wheel barrel, it seems like they changed the type of hay he was fed as well.

I don't recall the details on that horse - just that he lived to be very old and happy. I only say this because a second opinion/treatment plan could potentially offer you some other choices. But it may not.

Either way this is a very hard decision and I am sorry that you are in this predicament.
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post #10 of 25 Old 06-17-2019, 02:07 PM
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I think i would get a different vet up for a second opinion. You may not be doing enough for treatment.

For example, this is the schedule the vet gave me for my mares (very minor in comparison) respiratory allergies:

Dosage of dexamethasone

Give orally or in feed:

6 ml once a day for 4 days

5 ml once a day for 4 days

4 ml once a day for 4 days

3 ml once a day, for 2 weeks

3 ml every other day


The goal with the decreasing dosages is to find the smallest amount we can give her to control her symptoms. For example, if she does well on 4 mls a day, but then starts coughing again when on 3 ml, we would bump back up to 4 ml and stick with that dose.

My mare is off all treatment at this time and doing well. I have to be meticulously careful about what hay we buy. Nothing with dust or mold. She's not stalled except for severe weather. I installed stall mats with no bedding - this gets swept out completely before stalling so there is no dust or limited dust in her stall.

What are you feeding her if she isn't gaining weight? Is she eating all her food without it being stolen?

I would find a better vet. No offense, but your vet is terrible. The goal of using dexamethasone is to prevent the lung damage from becoming worse by preventing the allergic reaction. If you don't stop the immune system's over reaction, you are allowing the disease to progress.

Determining the type of allergy is important as well. Is your horse allergic to pasture and worse in the summer, or allergic to hay and worse in the winter?

Have you tried steaming the hay? Or feeding a pelleted feed? For example, i know someone who feeds 15lbs of senior feed per day with no hay to her heavey horse. This means no dust exposure at all from feed- she dumps water on top to wet it down before feeding.

Dexamethasone is $6 a bottle online. Don't buy directly from the vet. Ask for a prescription and buy online which saves about $40.

One vet told me my mare had heaves- but the second vet said this was allergies. My guess is it was an allergy. The disease has not progressed in any way. She no longer coughs and has not needed any further treatment in a couple years.

I think it is time for a second opinion.

They have newer treatment options - inhaler use or allergy shots
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