The old mare was twenty-six years old. Though not the oldest horse on my farm her quality of life was slowly diminishing. She was moving about the pasture less than she once had and though not in any apparent pain nothing about her was as bright as it was once. A physical examination failed to pinpoint an exact cause. On a sunny fall day she laid simply laid down and could not get up. I knew her time had come.
The young mare was five years old when she foundered. The vet at the hospital felt that she could be saved and go on to lead a useful life. Following a week of intensive care she came home. Though her care was arduous and went on for many months afterward she exhibited a will to live and gamely fought through the long recovery process. Today she leads a happy, useful life.
No matter if death is the expected result of a long, happy life or a too short end to a young one, it’s never easy saying goodbye to a horse you have loved and cared for. It can be even more difficult to accept if you are charged with the decision to put your animal down. How then can you know when it’s time? From personal experience I can tell you that it’s important that you be at peace with the decision. In both of the above scenarios I am confident that I made the right decision.
Of course sometimes accidents or illness, such as inoperable colic, happen where it is immediately clear that the kindest thing you can do, in order to prevent suffering, is to put the animal down. However, sometimes the decision is not so easy. Below are some points to consider:
Is your horse in constant pain that cannot be controlled with medication and/or other treatments? Is this pain expected to be long term? An example of this would be lameness that is chronic and severe perhaps affecting the animal’s ability to rise once down.
Does your horse, as my mare did, appear to be depressed? Sometimes horses that are seriously ill will lose interest in activities they once enjoyed even if those activities are limited to being a retired, happy pasture ornament. Perhaps your old horse has experienced some degree of debilitation in old age that contributes to their depression. I have often been told by experienced horsemen that a horse will tell when it’s time and indeed my old mare did.
If you are considering making the decision to euthanize your horse due to its illness, what is your horse’s prognosis? If the animal is suffering from an incurable and progressive disease euthanasia may be the most humane choice.
While your veterinarian is likely already involved if you are even considering this difficult decision, you’ll no doubt want to further involve him or her when deciding on the final outcome. If the decision is made to proceed, he or she can walk you through the process and help you prepare for what comes afterward.
The decision to euthanize is never one you want to have to make but by carefully considering the points above beforehand you will know that you have made the right decision.