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Euthanasia, what do I need to know

I have a horse that is retired, 24 years old, and I bought her at 7 months. I learned so much with her and have a very deep bond. I bought the farm I live on, six years ago, so she would have a soft retirement landing spot. Two years ago, she tore a front DDFT very badly in turnout. We did prostride injections into the tendon, shock wave treatments, etc., and she did recover, but the vet told me that the injury was devastating and she would likely reinjure. She was fully retired after that. This april, she retore it and the ultrasounds show a much larger tear and she is very lame in walk. She is preferring to stay in her stall, laying down a lot (is developing a shoe boil on her elbow, so we are addressing that) and has lost appetite. The vet came out and consulted with the farrier and we put her on taller wedges and she changed her pain protocol from 1 equioxx per day to two grams of bute 5 days on two days off, and the possibility of gabapentin if it doesn’t get better. Since her quality of life is slipping the vet told me it is probably time to say goodbye. She said it would be reasonable, if I can keep her pain free, to let her have the summer. I added some other therapies and now she is more mobile, etc., but I know that each time she injures that DDFT the injury will be more dramatic and there is a possibility that she will tear it trying to stand or not be able to stand. So I am in agreement with the vet to set a date at the end of summer.

I have been through this before, and for the last one, a dear friend stood in for me because I could not handle it. I know it is important to be there at the end, so I will do that this time. What else do I need to know?

Oh I have two young geldings at home and she is their boss. I am guessing this will be bad for them too, but I also think they already kind of know.

I am really struggling with my emotions and having to be in work meetings every day.

This is the hardest part of being a pet parent.

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I’m so so sorry. My mare is 21 and I’ve known her since the day she was born, so I totally understand that bond. Know that you are making the right decision - if she’s not comfortable and not eating, her quality of life is suffering.

I would have the other horses nearby when you do it, so they can see and watch, and let them come sniff her afterwards. It’s best that way for them to understand. I would also recommend talking with her and them with a horse communicator. I’ve heard before that horses know when it’s time and I think it might give you closure and some peace. I would have arrangements sorted ahead of time - hauler if you plan to cremate her, or a backhoe if you plan to bury her on site. I would not dig the hole ahead of time, just out of personal preference (I don’t want to watch it being dug while she’s still with me), but let the person know when the appointment is. Don’t forget to take some mane/tail/forelock if you’d like it. There’s some wonderful options out there to remember her.

It’s hard to be there, but know that it’s less scary for her if her person is right by her side. Spoil her as much as you can in the days and weeks ahead of time.

Sending lots of hugs and love. I hope you have a wonderful few more months with her. :heart:

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You absolutely do not need to be there. If it’s better for your mental health that you aren’t there, don’t make yourself do it. Sometimes it’s better to remember them alive and happy, and once they’re sedated the animals really don’t know or care who is holding the lead rope. My vet always offers to have owners there to say goodbye and take tail after sedation, and they handle it from there if needed.

Hugs to you, no matter what. It’s a tough place to be in, but better a day too soon than a day too late.

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Make sure to give yourself time with her after she passes. For me, I always try to hold it together when I’m around them before they go. So I need that time to just let it all out.

And I’d suggest having someone else be there to supervise the part of transferring her to wherever she is going.

Hugs to you. You already know this, but spoil her rotten in the time you have. :heart:

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I am going to second what the poster above me said.

You are not wrong if you can not handle being there. We all deal with this differently. You are still a great horse owner who loves your horse very much, even if you are not there for the final injection.

Love on her, give her all her favorite things. Let the vet sedate her and you can walk away to implode on your own, how you choose to deal with this.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is just imposing their theories on you.

On the topic of the other horses - When I put down my old horse, I was very worried about my one very herd bound mare. She is the type that if she can not totally see one of her barnmates, she is freaking out, so very dramatic. I was not looking forward to learning how long it would take her to get over the loss.

The horse was put down in the lawn, not in the horse’s area.
One at a time I lead the remaining horses out to graze on the lawn and sniff the body. Let them hang out until they were not interested (when they started dragging me around the yard to eat grass).
That mare took one sniff of the body and went to eating grass. Never so much as screamed for the lost horse.

Maybe you can ask a friend to help you with showing your geldings your mare’s body so they can know that she is gone.

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We just lost a wonderful old horse to fast growing bone cancer. I agree with what everyone has said here --only addition I have is if you are going to bury your horse, ask the excavator to come after the vet (at least an hour or two). Having unusual heavy equipment nearby can upset a horse.

I do second the sedation before. The horse we had belonged to my granddaughter (25) who wanted to be present when he passed. I think it would have been easier on her if the horse had been somewhat sleepy at the end. Instead, he was alive nuzzling her for another peppermint one moment, and then gone the next. She found that difficult.

Second, ask the vet to explain what will happen --this horse was my 6th in 60+ years of horse ownership --all with the same vet present. I knew what would happen. However, even though I did explain to GD, she had more of a “Disney” idea that her beloved horse would fold his legs and quietly lie down, closing his eyes. Instead the drugs took effect immediately. There was no time for whispered goodbyes as there had been for her dog a few years before. She was equally upset that his long time pasture mate nuzzled him and whinnied softly to him for sometime after (he was present as suggested above).

My GD faulted my vet for being “cold” --he’s been my vet and this horse’s vet for 25 years --even did his PPE many years ago. I told GD it’s hard on vets too lose long-time patients when they have spent years keeping them well.

I was ok with everything until the next day when I went to feed and made up five horse breakfast instead of four --I’d forgotten one was eating grass in a heavenly pasture where horses have wings and flies don’t.

GD took her favorite painting I’d done of her horse years ago (one of many) as he was handsome, and asked for a shadow box with his things in it. I’ve finished that now: halter, stall tag (she made it when she was 10), show number (he was always 432), a lock of tail neatly braided, and his last set of shoes that we had pulled when he could no longer be ridden. I even found the card that came with him she found him in the barn for her 10th birthday.

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Keep the better a day too soon than a day too late horseman’s mantra with you. It has gotten me thru all the inevitables with our creature’s shorter lifetimes. I don’t do well with suffering.

I’m sure a good vet will help you, but it’s best to fold the horse up while you can so the body can be moved easier.

hugs.

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I am so sorry.

I helped a friend a few months ago. There were 2 support people and we did not know each other which was actually good, weird at first but good. We all brought wine. We all arrived very early. We spent time reminiscing, feeding treats, and getting as much wine into our protege as possible (for 10am lol)

When the vet arrived he explained how things would go and we filled in details of things she might not expect. She decided how much or how little she wanted to observe at any time and the vet knew one of us was available if needed while the other comforted our friend.

I would highly recommend the 2-friend approach if possible.

Or, if you can’t stomach being there, don’t beat yourself up! Plan a goodbye with lots of treats and leave your horse in the hands of someone she trusts and who cares for them. It’s not so different than taking a horse to the vet and having someone else take them to the imaging room or having someone else deal with a vet emergency while you are away.

Horses understand being handled by other people and generally take vet visits in stride. Unless your horse can only be calm and trusting with the vet while in your hands, there is no real reason from the horse’s perspective for you to be there. We put a lot of, imo unnecessary, guilt on people for not being with their horses at the end when the horse may be served best otherwise :confused: this is your decision to make, not anyone else’s. You know your horse best. You know you best. You know your friends best.

If you want to be there, rally the troops. If you don’t, that’s ok too, rally the troops in a different way.

However you proceed - all the hugs to you ~~~~~

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I agree that you dont HAVE to be there for the final moment. I would ask for heavy sedation and say my goodbyes. The horse hitting the ground can be distressing - some horses crumple but others stagger a bit and fall more heavily.

I was there for my old horse, but my vet’s protocol was that you gave her the lead rope and stepped back for the last injection so she could guide the horse down. I turned away but the sound was gut wrenching.

Be there for her while she is aware. There is no need to torture yourself by watching the end if it will only distress you further.

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I’m sorry you have this in front of you, Cowgirl. Many years ago I lost a great horse to laminitis after struggling through a few recurrences and recoveries. It’s heartbreaking.

Agree that you can decide to be there or not. And with other advice up thread. If you are having your mare buried on site, you might look at this thread about folding a horse. I wish we had known this at the time as my DH had a difficult time burying my horse–it’s not easy. Some other, related, comments as well on the necessary process of dealing with horse’s body.

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I want to add - if you are having your horse buried on your property, ask around to get a good recommendation.
The gentleman we used was not a horse person but he understood and though moving a not alive 1000 pound animal is not a delicate process, he did it so carefully. He told us what he was going to do, and when, so we could either not be there or be there. How he set the body in the hole was like he was putting an infant down for a nap. So carefully.
He even asked if we had a preference for which way the body was put into the hole.

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The horse does not know that anything in particular is going on. There is no need for you to be there at the time. Only if It is important for you.

Personally I do want to be there, not “for” my animal who doesn’t know, but “beside” my animal, for me. In my case I have found it comforting to witness that this is truly the end point of their journey.

But that is not how it feels for everyone. You do not need to be there if you would take no comfort.

Again, the animal does not know. I don’t believe it matters to them.

That’s just my belief.

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I’ve BTDT for 4 of mine & chose to be with them with 1 exception.
That horse was at the vet hospital & vet had to delay my euth appt due to an emergency surgery.
I was waiting with my horse & got the distinct impression he didn’t need me there.

I’ve not had the luxury of being able to bury any of mine on my acreage.
2 were donated to the vet college, 2, resulting from a trailer accident, went to landfill.
But in my heart, I know what’s left is not Them, just a shell. And I’m at peace with that.

For the euths I attended, I requested sedation first & was able to hold the head of that first one after vet students lowered him.
The passing itself was peaceful, though I understand the agonal breaths & residual tremors can be upsetting.
Once the vet assured me he was gone, it was sad, but I was glad I’d been there.
You have to do what feels right for you.

Wishing you & your mare a peaceful passage :pray:

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One tip I’ve repeated on COTH – don’t talk about the euthanasia with anyone that you do not already know for sure will support your decision. You can talk about it here on COTH.

You don’t have to justify, persuade and convince other people with all of the reasons that you understand and they do not.

You don’t have to listen to all of their uninformed arguments against, that diminish symptons and reasons that you know are making your animal’s life hopeless and perhaps miserable. And hear all of the unrealistic suggestions for alternatives.

Among other things that people may suggest to you, making it harder for you, therapeutic riding centers, rescues and vet schools are not the dumping ground for horses that owners can no longer provide with quality of life. These are so often brought up as if they are a magic wand solution. Even by vets! They are rarely ever a realistically possible outcome. Just mentioning that.

You are in my thoughts with this step in your horse journey.

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This seems to help some horses, but I have a couple that were much more anxious than I believe they would have been, had the horse just been gone. My uncle had only two horses at home, euthanized one and let the other watch and see the body. The second horse became very agitated, and coliced and had to be euthanized the next day.

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I am so sorry that you are going through this. It’s the hard part of horse ownership…

If you don’t think you can stand being there for it, that is totally fine. You do what’s best for the horse but you need to take care of yourself too.

I was there every time for my horses, because I felt I owed it to them, and because it was closure for me. But everyone is different.

As others have said, the worst part for me was to see my beloved horse go down, even if the vet was guiding her down.
Then the fact that their eyes remain open after they are gone. For my last mare, the vet (who was as upset as I was, and was just coming from another euthanasia) covered her eye with a towel. She also snipped some hair and took the halter off for me, while my friends were comforting me ( Good friends who are also horsemen are great to have around at this time.)
Years ago, when mare was in her prime, I decided to just go ahead and make a horse hair bracelet with her tail hair. I am glad I did.

Lastly - make sure you have a plan for disposing of the body. My vet gave me the number of a kind man who takes horses to bury them on his property.

((Hugs)) to you.

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I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this. I’m older and have horses for 50 years. Over those years I’ve lost a few. You absolutely do not have to be there at the end. There is something to be said for having the last visual memory of being with your horse a happier one. Do NOT let people talk or bully you into “being there” if you are not 100% comfortable with it. And if the vet gets pushy about you being there and you have doubts, find another vet. Sending along some hugs.

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This was an important thing that we discussed with friend before her horse went down as well as telling her that we would not be able to close the eyelid (she still tried lol, but sort of shrugged it off, “Oh. They tell the truth. Whaddayaknow. Learned something today.”

I also let her know that after listening to the heart, the vet would also touch the eyeball to make sure there was no reaction. I remembered the first time I saw a vet do that and it was a bit of a shock. Friend was grateful for the heads up.

In terms of snipping hair for a memento, there is absolutely no reason not to do that well ahead of time. Unless you’re planning on taking the entire tail, the horse will not miss a chunk of it and that may be easier on the person unless that ritual is needed for closure.

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The important part of animal ownership is being a good caring owner during their life, not during the last few moments. You have done this in spades so don’t feel guilty for not being there at the end. I know how you feel - when my heart horse that was suffering from horrible laminitis and founder I got a friend to be there and I had to leave. I just could not handle it and I know how you feel.

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I agree with this. I’ve had two euthanized and the first one I left the property before he was put down because I just couldn’t deal. I said goodbye to him while he was still standing, and then I got in the car with my mom and we left (sobbing).

The second horse was my absolute heart and soul horse. I saw him born and I cannot due justice to the love I had for that animal here in this post. He broke his hind leg badly. Like, you could tell from the driveway it was broken when he was on the other side of the pasture. It was such a shock to me (and him) that I was running on pure adrenaline from the moment I found him until he was in the ground. When the vet arrived, she told me she DIDN’T want me there with them due to the nature of his injury and the fact that when he went down it wasn’t going to be pretty because he was going to lose his balance on that broken leg and…yeah. Not the last memory she wanted me to have of my horse. So, I went into the barn where my remaining gelding was freaking out in his stall, and I waited until given the “all clear” to come out and take off my boy’s halter and say my final goodbye. Crazily, he had one breath left in him (a reflex, I was reassured by the vet) that he decided to deploy JUST as I was taking the halter off his head! Scared me to death! LOL! I thought some Pet Cemetery shenanigans were afoot! But it was fitting. I saw him take his first breath when he was born, and I saw his last.

I did bring my other gelding out to sniff him once all was quiet before he was buried (which was very quick thanks to my neighbors having the equipment and being home to do it). I think it was very traumatic for my surviving gelding as he’d been raised with both of these now-departed horses and was left completely alone. I sold the farm a month later and moved him to a boarding facility, so he wasn’t alone for too long, but he definitely was a sad boy for that month.

Most horses are used to others handling them and are okay with that. Unless the horse has a strong aversion to the vet for some reason (my horses always loved the vet), I wouldn’t worry about being there right when the deed is done. Now, for a dog or cat? Yes. I think that’s a different level of bond (especially a dog, IMO), but even then, you have to do what is right for YOU. The animal will be at peace. You have to live on.

Hugs to you! It’s never easy, no matter how many times you go through it.

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