Decsion to euth a senior horse

I know there have been many threads of this nature lately and I have posted on them but I am having the hardest time with this decision. Rationally, I know it’s not too soon. My boy is 30 this year. He has cushings. He has EOTRH which is getting worse, he’s at the stage where he’s got plaque completely covering his canines and spreading across to all of his incisors. A few bottom teeth are starting to have the look of more moderate disease progression. He’s got huge melonomas around his anus. He doesn’t do well in the heat of summer and bugs to the point that he’ll stand all by himself all day long under the roof of the barn, not grazing, not with the other horses.

That being said he’s still eating well, no issues with that yet. He appreciates apples and carrots cut up to small pieces but still nickers as soon as he sees me because he knows a bag of them are coming. He’s at a boarding barn where the care is sufficient but nothing above and beyond, stall boarding him is not an option at this place. My vet agrees it’d be kinder to let him go before another summer. It’s currently still pleasant weather in my neck of the woods. It will start getting hot in May and be mid to upper 80s by June. I’m thinking I probably should make the decision and let him go next month but it is SO hard when I get to the barn and he’s looking at me for treats and eager when I get to turn him out as a special treat into the (now closed off) huge field to graze. I know it’s not the wrong thing to let him go now when he’s still looking and feeling pretty good but I am having such trouble with it. I’m looking for your stories, COTH’ers who have been in this same position and decided to let them go early. Did you feel guilt or regret after letting them go?

Let him go before the heat makes life miserable for him. I have had to put down two within the last year and it was the right thing to do.


Yup, let him go. It is the kindest thing to do for him. I made that decision last fall for my old guy and do not regret it at all. Winters were tough for him. I do still miss him, but it was the right thing to do.


So sorry you are going through this difficult decision. I had one with EOTRH also and it was just the tip of the iceberg. Big hugs to you and your gelding.

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Remember that he’s still a herd animal that is pre-programed to hide pain. Things have to be really quite bad for them to not perk up for a treat.


I’m so sorry. It’s so hard to lose them, and so hard to make this choice.

It helps me to consider that letting them go when they’re still enjoying life means that they don’t have to suffer pain or fear or stress of that last failure of their body. Horses as prey animals are so very good at hiding when they don’t feel well. When they decline enough to really show us that it’s “time” and that they’re “ready” to die, they’re in really poor shape.

We have the incredible gift of foresight. When we know the general direction is decline, and things are only going to get worse, why would we choose that path? Letting them go when things are still happy for them is so much kinder, although so much harder on us.

I’ve never regretted the choices I’ve made early, when my horses or dogs or cats are still well enough to feel good and enjoy their lives. Those are such good deaths. I’ve only regretted those choices that I’ve made too late, with those animals suffering because I wasn’t ready. Those are the worst, and continue to weigh heavily.


Yup, let him go before the worst of the heat, or even the beginning of that where you see him choose to stand by himself as a self-preserving compromise.

I have been there and done that. To me, there is no reason to make him compromise at all. Send him out (with a very well-done euthanasia) when his quality of life is at the very peak that it will be. If you start to come down the other side at all, ask yourself why. He’s not waiting for anything that will get better later if he just hangs in there, so there’s no ethical upside to waiting past the peak.

Also, the idea that “the animal will tell you when he’s ready” is a really harmful rule of thumb. Because animals are so present-oriented and stoic (evolution doesn’t favor self-pity) they don’t look bad enough to be want to be “anywhere but here” until they are in some deep and unrelenting suffering. That, IMO, is way too late.

When I chose this for my horse, I picked a day in advance. I also lined up what I needed-- with the BO where he lived, with the vet, with the folks who would remove his body-- well ahead of time. (I also bought a plane ticket for the next day so that I wouldn’t be at the barn or not at the barn without him.). But my goal was to plan everything while I my gelding and I were enjoying each other so that, once that was done, I didn’t have anything to set up or second-guess. It really made our last month together great.

I also didn’t discuss this with anyone who would not be supportive or didn’t need to know.

You will still feel grief that will show up in weird ways and unexpected times along the way to his euthanasia and after. But it was very important to me to not keep a horse alive and suffering just because I couldn’t work through my suffering on his time table. That’s the reason I planned and scheduled the euthanasia and then just followed through with it. Having to make the decision closer to taking the action would have been harder.

When I was a kid, I saw a couple of owners futz around and lie to themselves about their animals’ quality of life. I decided I’d never be so much of a self-centered coward that I’d also be inadvertently cruel to an animal at the same time (without realizing it, because I was so caught up in my own suffering). So I’m a big fan of being responsible, matter-of-fact and prompt about euthanizing animals.

Looking back on the first and only horse I euthanized, I think I’d do it sooner if I got a do-over. Yes, he was happy and kinda/sorta/pasture sound-ish. But he had been sounder earlier and I had spent lots of money doing extreme things to keep him at that level of comfortable and happy. If it was going to end the same way anyway and he was never going to see his end coming, why wait? He really did have a good last day.

I do think we all take a long time to euthanize the first one. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as we show up to evaluate our animal’s quality of life and are rigorously honest about what we see there.


Well put, and I SO agree. It’s a dark place when an animal has lost the spark–the will to live–and is actually showing us that it’s choosing to die. That’s so many steps past too late. :frowning:


I’ve had a couple I let go too late. One who had bad arthritis - worse in the summer, for some reason - and one who had a five-week issue with recurring colic that gradually got worse. What I regret is not letting them go sooner. In hindsight, I know that the recurring colic was not a pattern I could see at the time, but for the other arthritic mare, I made her wait too long and I know it. So no, I don’t regret letting anyone go ‘too soon,’ but rather too late.

You don’t want their last day to be their worst day. That’s the thing I always keep in the back of my mind now.


When the risk of being too late includes pain, distress, or suffering, there is no such thing as “too soon.”


We’ve read here about better a week too soon than a day to late.

Another thing I heard was don’t let their last day be their worst day.

It isn’t an easy decision for sure. Your horse knows only today, not what tomorrow may bring.

You know he’ll be with you forever :hugs:


No guilt.

We know this is a mortal being - they are GOING to die. You get to choose one of two options:

  1. Do it now, painlessly, with no stress, on a day when you’ve had time to prepare. He slips away with a mouthful of treats.

  2. Or do it when your horse, who has done so much for you, has gone too far, can’t get up, is in pain, as an emergency on a Sunday night or some other awful time when you have to wait hours for the vet, or has slipped down the slope so far but the vet is saying there’s a pretty good chance he can be patched up… over and over… but really, he can’t no matter how much money and time you throw at it… and the slope is one of diminishing quality of life.

Option 1 is a gift to your horse. Option 2 is selfish.

(And if I hear someone say “I’ll just know when - the light goes out of their eyes and I know it’s time” one more time, I’ll slap them. When the light goes out, it’s too late!)


Thank you everyone, I really appreciate the comments. Intellectually I know that it isn’t too soon and that everything all of you have said is 100% true. I’m suppose I’m just finding it difficult now that I’m within a few weeks away of actually scheduling the appointment with the vet, coordinating the truck to come get him, etc. etc. I’m second guessing if I’m making the call too soon, even though if I step back, I know I am not.

Ironically I just had a friend call a few minutes ago, she had to suddenly put her gelding down today due to a bad impaction colic after having the vet out on Sunday as an emergency for suspected kidney stones. Now they are wondering if he’s actually be colicking the last couple of days. The vet commented on what a tough horse he was to have stoically managed that without very experienced horse people realizing what was actually happening. I feel horrible for her and her horse but it was some perspective for me. I’d rather let my guy go feeling and looking pretty good than as many of you said, having his last day be his worst day, which for my friend’s poor horse, it surely was. So sad.

(edited to add, it’s not that I think she could have done anything to prevent what happened to her horse but that situation reinforced to me that I don’t have to wait for something ‘worse’ to happen to my guy for me to be like ok, guess it’s time! There is zero reason to do that to him)


Well. I DO think they tell us when they are ready. The joy goes out of them, the eyes get dull. Other subtle signs they are in constant discomfort/pain. Maybe afraid of laying down for a roll or nap for fear of not being able to rise or stay close to the herd for fear of being shunned as too weak and liable to attract predators. Yes, they are telling us.

Whats harmful is when we humans don’t listen…and we tend not to listen until they are screaming it to us. Think OPs old guy has been telling her for awhile, maybe starting to raise his voice. Don’t make him have to shout.

One thing that sometimes opens our ears is somebody who knows the horse but has not seen it for some time will remark on the decline in condition…but we often get defensive. Vets and barn staff drop hints, which we ignore. Our friends know better then to bring it up. So we don’t listen to humans trying to tell us its time either.

Prick your ears.


I know it’s hard, but yes, you want his last day to not be his worst day. Do it before he goes through an agonizing day.

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Respectfully, I find this moment way, way, way too late.

I never want any animal of mine to experience the pain, fear, or stress that goes with this desire to die. If we know they’re going to wind up there, why not let them go BEFORE they end in that distress?

“Constant discomfort/pain” is not a SUBTLE sign. It’s a sign that I’ve totally failed as a caretaker.


Or goes down in the night and struggles to rise with an ancient fear of predators lurking deep inside. Thats not the dignified, comfortable passing years of faithful service have earned him and that should be a gift to him.

And lets not forget picking the day allows you to make necessary arrangements in advance and avoid midnite phone calls requiring fast decisions and leave you with the indelicate task of removing the 1000 pound remains from wherever he dropped- which may create problems and expense you did not plan for. Not the memory you always imagined.

Pick a day. It gets easier once you do it and make the arrangements, really. Almost a relief.


I’m okay with my cats, and okay with other horses, but I’m dreading the day I have to say goodbye to my horse. He’s 27 and has a few more good years ahead. I switched barns in November after 19 years, one of those “long story” stories. The new BO saved him, literally. The best article I’ve read is by trainer Julie Goodnight who had a horse drop dead in arena. It’s very well written, thoughtful, and informative. It has helped me organize my thoughts into plans. Better now than when a crisis occurs.

Dealing with the Death of a Horse


Can I make a suggestion?

Do not mix up

  1. Your reluctance to make those hard, hard phone calls with
  2. A genuine question about whether or not the animal’s quality of life is good and/or likely to get better if it’s not that good now.

When I write those out, you can see that they are conceptually different reasons for not taking action.

I think too many people put the onus on the animal to save them from having to do that emotionally hard work of deciding to euthanize. To me, that’s bass-ackwards.

And another thing! (Sorry for the rant, but here you go): Not a fan of the human self-euthanasia rules that say you have to be both within 6 months of death and physically capable of ingesting (or otherwise delivering) the lethal drugs to yourself. I get that the second criterion is meant to protect the human “Euthanatrix” from the emotional toll that delivering death takes. But meeting the first criterion means you are quite likely unable to meet the second.

That catch-22 leaves us with a policy that would allow deep, pointless and terminal suffering to go on so that someone else doesn’t have to do some emotional suffering. Not cool. If we were to change the meaning of euthanasia, so that helping someone die isn’t so bad and so secret (as it has to be if that’s illegal), we could help everyone.

Back to getting ready “on time” to set up a euthanasia for your animal: If you/we are as honest and accurate about our feelings as we can be, and if we own them, we’ll figure out the conflict and work through it faster.

There is nothing wrong with saying the truth that relieving your horse of pain causes you deep emotional pain. But be clear that solving your problem (by avoiding the topic or action) doesn’t actually solve his problem. And it also only solves your problem in the shortest of terms unless you are able to completely abdicate responsibility or “get lucky” and have the animal die before you can euthanize. (And neither of those options actually ends up feeling like good luck.)

Then, with the two problems stated honestly, get really clear about what you want more. At some point, most of us choose to sacrifice our emotional well-being to order the euthanasia. But why not find nobility in working through those emotions so that they can be put aside for the good of the animal faster?


I know I’ll cause an uproar over this, but have you considered using an (here it goes) animal communicator to see how your horse feels? Most animals are ready to leave a body that no longer works for them or doesn’t allow them to do what they’ve always done.

The answers you get will probably confirm what deep down you know you should do. And knowing that he’s OK with going will ease your mind. Also, this person will reassure you that you did the right thing and he’s just fine now (they deal with bereft owners all the time).

My 34 yr. old horse had EPM and was being treated, but his bad arthritic hock made him unsteady; we had to help him up a few times. Just a few days into treatment, after he went down again and was rubbed raw from the ground and cut up, I decided to let him go. He may have recovered, but the hock issue wouldn’t improve and knowing he was scared and vulnerable when down just broke my heart. He sort of made the decision for me, but it was one I’d eventually have to make. It sucks either way.

Enjoy your remaining time with him and know that he’ll be just fine; his energy will be with you when his body is gone.