When It’s Time
Tuesdays with Tony
We’re going to talk about a tough subject today, so I’m going to be on my best behavior. It’s an important topic, one my Docs face all the time with owners. How do you know when it’s time to euthanize your horse? Let me help you with what I’ve learned from years hanging out on the front counter here at Springhill Equine.
Let me start by saying this entire blog is full of guidelines. Sometimes it’s crystal clear that euthanasia is the only option: badly broken legs, some very bad lacerations in very bad locations, and the older horse who is down and can’t get up. Most of the time it isn’t so clear. It’s muddy like a limerock road after rain in Florida. My very best cat advice is to talk through your concerns and fears with my Docs. They have helped people make this decision many times, and can help you find the right option for you and your horse.
What does pain look like?
We all know that some horses, just like some humans, (and some cats) take pain better than others. However, horses as a species are really, really good at hiding pain in general. When you live and die on the grasslands based on who is the easy-to-pick-off weak one, you hide your pain. Horses do give us clues to look for, though. The biggest clue that your horse is painful is weight loss. These are horses who continue to eat everything in sight, but continue to lose weight. And I don’t mean a little bit of weight loss. These horses are often in the 2 to 3 body condition score range, despite a ton of effort by their owners to manage the weight loss. I recommend weekly or every-other-week pictures of your horse. This way you can swipe back and see what your horse looked like over the past few months.
A change in routine is another sign of pain for horses. Has Flicka always been under the oak tree at the far end of the pasture at 3pm? Now she isn’t even going to the far end of the pasture? This can be a sign of pain. As the person who knows your horse best, you are in the best position to notice these often subtle changes. Especially as horses age, the change in routine can come on slowly. Take a moment every month or so to evaluate your horse’s patterns.
Get out the Magic 8 Ball
Next up is the future life problem. For this one, there are two different categories: young vs. older. Why are there two different categories, you ask? Time is the biggest reason, and capacity for healing is the second reason. Let’s take a bad laceration to the back of the lower leg as an example. These injuries can take years to recover from. They make an athletic career unlikely, and they put a lot of stress on the other three legs. A young horse has a much better chance of being able to heal one of these wounds without one of the other legs giving out. It is very realistic to ask yourself if you want your older horse to go through the years of work that will be necessary, and if they can handle it. The answer is often yes, but it’s important, on young and old, to think about.
I’m going to be very brief on this part. Have a plan for how much you can, and are willing to spend on your horse ahead of time. I promise my Docs aren’t going to judge you for this. The reality is some of the things horses do to themselves are very, very expensive to fix. If that’s not right for you, we understand! Some quick guidelines: colic surgery-$10,000, infected joint-$5-6,000, bad, bad wound repair-$2500-3000. Insurance and programs like SmartPak’s ColiCare can help with these expenses, but you have to look into them early.
Most important thing I’ve ever said
The absolute single most important thing to consider when considering euthanasia for your horse: what is their every day like? We animals live for today. We aren’t trying to make it to our kids graduation, or the end of the Game of Thrones season. We live day by day. If those days aren’t good, we aren’t happy. Consider what the day to day looks like for your horse. Please be honest with yourself, and if it isn’t good, let them go.
I know this week was tough, but it’s really important stuff! My Docs are always, always, always available to talk with you about your horse, and help you make decisions.
Now be a good human and subscribe to my blog. It’s a simple button push after scrolling down a wee, tiny bit further.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!