A difficult question for all horse owners- euthanasia

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Arabesque

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Please, if this is a particularly sensitive subject for you right now, do not read the topic. This is not posted to distress those already having a worrying time with their beloved horse and pony.

I was just thinking that almost everyone who owns horses must consider this issue at some time in their lives. It's a difficult subject and I hope this isn't too upsetting but all responsible owners will have their own thoughts often about it. So I hope it's not too untoward to discuss it. Personally I've made the decision for many small pets over the years and cried over each and every one of them.

As we all know it's not always cut and dried what's best for the horse so in some circumstances the owner must wrestle with all the options and then make the decision they feel is best for their own horse- there's often not a right and wrong answer.

My own friend struggled to get her mare through an illness which recurred and led to losing her that second time around. However some people told her she should have euthanised her mare when she first got the illness and was given a prognosis of 60% chance of recovery. I reassured her that they were wrong. The mare was still 'herself', cheeky and interested the first time around. The second she was losing the will to survive, and that was clear, so my friend made her hard decision.

Some less clear situations I have thought of that may affect people include;

The horse becomes unrideable but is still sound for retirement

The horse suffers some mishap (accident etc.) that makes it unmanageable by anyone but the owner and at times potentially dangerous.

The owner of an elderly or frequently unsound horse becomes compromised through injury or illness and is struggling to care for the horse financially and/or physically

The horse suffers recurrent illness with varying short periods of very good health

EDIT
*These are all situations where Euthanasia is often an option given.*

I would like your thoughts on this and what you would be inclined to do if any of the odd situations arose for you- any reasons you feel particularly strongly about the best thing to do from your personal perspective.

I hoped a discussion like this might help people to think about what they might do and never have to make a decision under sudden pressure- I know since losing her first horse my friend has made plans for 'if the worst came' with her second.
 
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eventerbabe

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i've spoken about this a few times with my vet as regards Bonnie. i suppose she could now be classed as a severe laminitic. she has slight rotation and founder in both front feet, but the damage to her hoof capsule is much worse than the internal damage. my mum, the vet and myself decided that we did not want her to suffer, and if she ever foundered/rotated badly we'd have her PTS. fortunately she's now stabilised and her feet are coming along a treat, look almost normal now. i know deep down that she won't survive another laminitis attack so now that she's healthy, laminitis free and on an even keel we take each day as it comes and just enjoy having her :)

Some less clear situations I have thought of that may affect people include;
The horse becomes unrideable but is still sound for retirement
i suppose this is similar to my situation. my mare is sound, healthy and enjoying inhand work. whether we can ride her i'm still not 100% convinced, mainly coz i believe i may be too heavy for her even though i rode her quite happily before her last attack. but its never been an option to have her PTS just coz we might not ride her again. she doesn't owe us anything, and if she can live out a happy semi-retirement with us then thats all we ask for.

although i'd do everything i could financially and treatment wise to help my horses, you need to know where to draw the line and if they had a poor chance of survival or would have no quality of life then i think its kinder to have them PTS.
 
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Mehitabel

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The horse becomes unrideable but is still sound for retirement

can i afford to keep it in retirement? will it be happy retired? if not, then i'd rather PTS than potentially fall victim to one of these scams you hear about of alleged retirement homes where horses are doped up and sold as riding horses.
i also know some horses who have been utterly miserable in retirement and who needed to be out and doing things to be happy. a friend retired her horse and he went downhill very fast - he looked depressed, lost weight, stifened up hugely. with hindsight, he'd have been better off being PTS at once - but of course you never know that until you try. i know she feels terribly guilty for letting him suffer, even though there was no way she could have foreseen it.

The horse suffers some mishap (accident etc.) that makes it unmanageable by anyone but the owner and at times potentially dangerous.

i'd certainly PTS rather than sell on in this situation. if i can safely manage it and it is happy, then i'd carry on - but once quality of life goes then that's it.

The owner of an elderly or frequently unsound horse becomes compromised through injury or illness and is struggling to care for the horse financially and/or physically

again it's the same argument as in the first - i'd rather the horse was PTS than risk mistreatment by selling or gifting to a 'retirement home'. if my horse isn't valuable to someone objective, if the chances are slim of it finding a good home where it can be loved and useful enough to guarantee a good end to its days, then i'd rather end it now. i don't think they see the future like us, i don't think that they think 'i'm only 15, i ought to have another 15 years life' - they live in the present and if each present moment isn't good, then we have some hard thinking to do.

The horse suffers recurrent illness with varying short periods of very good health
how miserable is it when it's ill? is the majority of life happy, or suffering? that's what i'd take into consideration.
 

chev

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Mehitabel's said what I feel really so I won't type it all out all over again.

We're facing this now with Gelfy - he's had more x-rays taken now and we're waiting to find out how much damage there is in his stifles. If it's mainly his hocks causing problems, we'll try over the next few months to see if we can get him sound - if his stifles are anywhere near as bad, he'll be PTS at the end of the summer. There are a few reasons - and although it sounds brutal, cost is one. I've had two claims for his joints already and can't get insurance that will cover further treatment, so I have to cover all costs myself. When he's on bute already, and we have x-rays to pay for now, and probably nerve-blocking in the next couple of weeks, and then steroid injections in his hocks if it's going to help - it does cost.

There's also the issue of how much I'm prepared to put the pony through to keep him going too. He's not the best patient in teh world, does get upset at too much meddling, and in spite of the fact that he's still very young, I don't think that I can compromise his mental well-being just to keep him going physically.
 

chapsi

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This is never an easy solution. And, when you finally decide, you are likely to be left with the agravation of your loss and bereavement clouded by an dreadful feeling of guilt, that you killed your beloved friend.
I think this decision take a lot of courage on anybody's behalf. One decides with a broken heart.

I owned a horse for over 2 1/2 years, who displayed unpredictable, dangerous behaviour. He had mood swings, stops, was extremely agressive and could be a vicious biter too. After years of struggling, for both me and those who handled him, we found out what the matter was (he had a hormonal malfunction). He went through 2 operations; on the second I decided in advance with the vet that it would be kinder for all involved to leave him asleep if the surgery proved unsucessful.
So it was.

I was devastated, severely depressed, as I loved my horse dearly. The sense of loss is still there, but at least I now came to terms with my sense of guilt, and I realise I acted in a responsible and humane manner.
I no longer regret my option, as I KNOW I did everything I could.
 
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I think if your horse is suffering and the only option to relieve it is euthanasia then it's the responsible thing to do. However i don't really agree with if your horse becomes unrideable yet manageable that it should be put down. If i were to have a horse that had to be retired i would definately try to give it the best retirement possible. What i wouldn't do is just turn it out in the field and leave it to graze. I would continue to keep it active for example taking it for walks and so forth. I have a friend who did that with her veteran and he was perfectly happy. However that is just my opinion.
 

sidesaddlelady1

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If the horse is not suffering there is an alternative to euthanasia. Organisations such as HAPPA and the ILPH will take on horses if the owner is no longer able to cope. They do not put horses down unless it is in the animal's best interests. If the horse is suitable they will re-home it on a loan basis with regular inspection or if that isn't an option they will keep the horse at one of their centres. They appreciate it if you can also make a donation but will not turn away your horse if money is the only problem.

I have gifted my horse to the ILPH in my will to ensure his future and if I ever become unable to care for him on a permanent basis he will also go to them. If you are interested in this they will send you further info.

Incidentally, if you live in the north west (UK) the ILPH is having an open day at Penny Farm at Blackpool on September 10th. All sorts of displays including the Kings Troop. Royal Artillery who use an ILPH rescue horse in their gun carriage team.
 

chev

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And there are some horses who, even though they might not be suffering, might not cope so well with a new home anyway.

I read a heartbreaking story a while back on another board, where someone who'd been diagnosed with a terminal illness had arranged to have her two elderly but healthy horses put down before she died. They'd been with her all their lives, had never known another home, and were very closely bonded - even though both were fit and healthy she felt it would be unfair to put them through the trauma of rehoming. Although she was critisized by some, I have to admit I felt it was a very brave decision - and in that case, the right one.
 

augermoon

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Just a comment worth noting. The equine rehab places such as the ILPH, Ada Cole etc are often full to the brim with horses that have come in for re-homing or others that simply cannot be re-homed. I work for such a charity and we have over 100 on our books waiting to come in and are reguarly having to turn people away. I cannot comment on the 'gifting in the will' situation, as I am not familiar with how it works, but in a normal situation, you cannot really guarantee that centres like these will have room to take your horse in should you find that you cannot keep it. Horses and ponies that can still be ridden can often be taken in and re-homed easily but it is more tricky when the horse can only be re-homed as a non-rideable companion. There are hundreds and hundreds of horses and ponies in this situation and they can be very hard to re-home. Centres already have loyalty to their own 'loan' horses and have to make allowances to be able to take them back should their 'loan owners' no longer be able to have them. Hence the sad reality is that there is often just not enough room to be able to offer a home for life to any companion horse that needs it.
 

Mehitabel

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chev said:
And there are some horses who, even though they might not be suffering, might not cope so well with a new home anyway.

I read a heartbreaking story a while back on another board, where someone who'd been diagnosed with a terminal illness had arranged to have her two elderly but healthy horses put down before she died.
yep, 'best interests' goes way further than 'is this horse in unendurable pain right now'.
copper is 'elderly and healthy' - while he is very useful to the riding school, he certainly wouldn't sell on the open market and if it came to that, i'd have him PTS. he is fit, sound and healthy - but 22, blemished, can't jump due to an old injury, bad to catch in some circumstances, suspicious due to previous mistreatment, bad to load, won't be clipped.
as things are, if i get run over by a bus tomorrow, YO gets him in my will and has said he will live out his days with her on the riding school - but i also have her word that should anything mean that he can't stay with her, he will go to sleep. it'd be profoundly unfair on him to do anything else.
 
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eventerbabe

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this thread has thrown up some interesting points. must admit, i'd never considered what i'd want done with them if (god forbid!) something was to happen to me. something i should really start thinking about i suppose.........

chev, what a heartbreaking story. but that lady did what was best for her horses. must admitt, doubt either of mine would cope if sold on. bonnie is such a quirky little character i doubt there are many who'd put time into getting to know her. and toby has floored every "strange" person who's ridden him, except my instructor and even then he had a bloody good try. wouldn't be fair to uproot them if the unforseen did happen. i can completely see that lady's point of view.
 

Loopslou

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As most of you know I went through all this very recently with my Flashie, its 4 weeks tomorrow since she was PTS but now seems a lifetime away.

From the minute I bought Flash I told my family that if she was suffering unduly in any way that they were to sit me down and tell me to wise up and do the kindest thing.

When I changed to my current vet 6 or 7 years ago I told him the same thing, when the time comes for him not to let me get sentimental and hold out to fading hopes.

My vet would do anything but put an animal to sleep BUT also wouldn't have you throwing good money after bad.

Flash suffer a severe bout of colic last November which lasted on and off for a week, she then took jaundice and liver failure. She rallied over the winter and hand total rest just milling about the field and in at night. She didn't take laminitis this year until the very end when she took a toxic bout. She was abelt o be ridden about half a dozen times during the spring but then started to suffer with mastitis and then the jaundice came back and I knew that she was just giving up. To be honest, I was always sceptical when people said that your horse will let you know when they've had enough but not any more, I know Flash was telling me she'd had enough, I could see it in her eyes everytime she looked at me. she would whinney when I left the yard with Amber and I knew she hated not being able to get out and about. I tried walking her out in hand about 4 weeks before she was PTS and I thought she was going to collapse on the road.

You do need to have an action plan in your head, in fact, write down what you want done and let family and perhaps your yard owner know what you want done, you can't be sure that you will be there when the time comes for one reason or another. Things like, do you want your horse rugged, do you want a piece of tail cut (I did that and am getting a bracelet made). Has the carcass to go to the hunt or the renderers? Things like that may sound trivial but if you have them on paper at least its there in black and white.

Everyone has said to me that I was very brave getting Flash PTS and for staying with her, I wasn't brave, I was just doing an old friend and big favour. Also, many people have a wish that the decision will be taken out of their hands and that they will arrive at the yard one day and their old friend will have passed away through the night - the liklihood of that happening is exceptionally slim. Besides that, I think I would have been worse if Flash had passed away, at least with euthanasia I got to say goodbye and I know I was the last thing she saw before she died.
 

chapsi

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at least with euthanasia I got to say goodbye and I know I was the last thing she saw before she died
I visited my horse the night before the fatal operation. He knew what was going to happen, and he made his farewell to me. This was one of the most intensive, yet dramatic and emotional moments of my life. I was there for him, and despite the pain it caused me, I'm glad I was there, as he appreciated the chance to say goodbye. My vet also phoned the next day, just as he was about to increase the lethal dosis of anaesthetic. That moment, he was with him in thoughts.
 

Stella2

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I have thought this through in relation to my mare, so I can comment in relation to her.

If she was suffering with a chronic condition or had lost her pleasure in life, I would have her put to sleep at home by injection. If she couldn't be ridden, I would retire her, but I would keep her. She loves to be out, so if possible, I would retire her to grass livery. She is currantly on full livery. I can't see why that would need to continue in retirement, but if it did, then so be it, I would just have to make the sacrifice of not having another to ride on full livery! My instructor loves her and has land. She is a very trustworthy, ethical woman and I have told her and my family, that should anything happen to me, Flora will be gifted to my instructor. If she is well she will work in a few lessons (my instructor is mainly freelance with folk riding their own, so her lesson horses don't do many hours a week). When she can't work, she will just live out her days there safely. I have given family members strict instructions that she is not to be sold.

Its quite emotional to think it all through and make plans isn't it, but I certainly felt I had an obligation to Flora to do that.
 

Loopslou

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but the main thing is Stella is that you have laid out your plans and that more than one family member knows what those plans are - very hard to do but at least its one worry out of the way if (god forbid) something does happen.
 

Stella2

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Loopslou said:
but the main thing is Stella is that you have laid out your plans and that more than one family member knows what those plans are - very hard to do but at least its one worry out of the way if (god forbid) something does happen.
Thanks Lou, not only that, but this thread sent me straight to Microsoft Word to put the details down in writing to place with my Will, so the family won't have to struggle to remember exactly (her name & contact details etc). So thanks for the thread Arabesque.
 

Arabesque

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Isn't it wonderful that we have such genuine and caring owners and riders on this board? I've been really emotional reading some of your responses and admire everyone who went through this with their own..

Since I started the thread I better comment on some of the scenarios I mentioned and what got me started thinking this in the first place..


The horse becomes unrideable but is still sound for retirement

You know, I'm sure a lot of us would want to think we could try and keep our horse in retirement. But as M has said, some horses are not suited by it and for some it proves totally detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

Scenario I heard of at a yard I helped out at briefly;

A woman owned a horse for a few years. The horse was an ex-racehorse mare who had suffered on and off stiffness- arthritic changes- and problems with one specific hock. After a while with hock trouble worsening the woman elected to stop riding her horse but wanted to keep her in retirement. The mare began to become even stiffer and was clearly having trouble with her arthritis. She managed until winter and a bout of mud fever- which she got very badly due to her white legs. She was being kept in. The stiffness increased and worsened. The horse could barely leave her stable. The yard owners wanted her put down. The owner would not do it. Eventually the mare was clearly suffering to the point that even the owner would acknowledge. They agreed to have her put down. She was so stiff on the day that they could only just get her out of her box- she could not even walk to the grass verge where the yard horses were usually put down (all shot, the hunt was their disposal service) and they had to close in all the horses in their stables and shoot her there on the yard. Poor girl. :(

I believe with the hard work and care that most loving owners will provide, a horse can be kept in retirement very happily.

I also agree that some horses, like the one I described, may have too many problems that retirement will exaggerate, to be retired to any quality of life.

One trend I have become aware of in terms of retiring horses, is virtual neglect in the guise of retirement. I know a woman who retired one of several horses, and more or less left her to it. She was fed and turned out and brought in and mucked out, but no one brushed her or fussed over her or even acknowledged her existence. It was so sad to see. I brushed her once, she was so pathetically pleased she would have stood there all day, untethered.

Even worse than that is something I have seen more rarely, but HAVE SEEN, and that is where the owner seems to resent the horse they have retired, as if they have done their duty but the horse is just a burden to them. They don't spend time with their horse. They don't smile when they speak of them. They don't rush up to the yard to see them and sometimes they start to snap and yell at the horse when working around them. That's very, very sad. The poor horse.

So I guess a horse being sound enough to retire at that time is only part of the story.

For myself my horse when I get him or her will be mine to the end of his or her days, and I hope through careful riding I will be able to keep them going into very late life- but through accident or injury, I would want to keep them as long as we were happy together, never sell them of course, and enjoy spending time with them.


The horse suffers some mishap (accident etc.) that makes it unmanageable by anyone but the owner and at times potentially dangerous.

As I have always hoped to keep my horse on part livery, this one is difficult for me. I'd have to take the horse out of part livery and see if I could manage him or her myself. If the danger factor involved charging randomly at people and attacking strangers when out.. I'd have to take responsibility and have them put down, rather than have to live with their killing someone.

It's not as far fetched as it sounds! The thing that got me thinking this was a story I had seen somewhere about a stolen pony recovered in appalling condition, beaten, thin and exhausted. As his strength returned he proved absolutely dangerous towards men- if in a box he would run at them and try and kick them, even outside sometimes- if approached by a man he would bolt wildly or lunge at them. I don't remember if they ever got him over that- heaven only knows what happened to the poor mite to cause that reaction.


The owner of an elderly or frequently unsound horse becomes compromised through injury or illness and is struggling to care for the horse financially and/or physically

I can't see that my horses, if I were in this condition, would have much chance of a good future, however well they had managed up till then. I'd be keen to gift them to a good friend or relative if I could- and pay anything I could afford towards them. If this was not possible and I knew I could no longer care for them, I'd have to make the sad decision to have them put down.

The horse suffers recurrent illness with varying short periods of very good health
Agree with M on this one- the nature of it's illness and how it affected the horse and whether it was leading a good quality of life in between would be all important- probably consult my friends and my vet for honest opinions.


Chapsi I think I must have been away when all this happened but I could swear I remember the horse you are talking of- you were having trouble with him when I was here a while ago now. I wondered how it turned out for you both. I think you were incredibly brave and responsible to try so hard to help him and then to make the best choice for him.
 

CityGirl

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I am in agreement with Mehitable so will just say "ditto".

For me, once quality of life is impacted, I would put an animal to sleep. I also have to say, I don't know that I would spend thousands of dollars on rehabbing/treating a horse who might not be sound. In all honesty, if insurance wouldn't cover treatment, I would seriously weigh my options before embarking on any instensive treatment/surgery.

I love my pets. I will do everything I can for them. BUT, I also believe that there are thousands of healthy animals who are PTS every day b/c they don't have an owner. I think that in many cases, money spent rehabbing a chronically lame, ill, whatever animal could be better spent elsewhere.....
 

smiler22

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Ok, Oscar had very severe arthritis, and, even if we did decide to retire him he would have no quality of life. You could see there was so brightness in his eyes, no gleem in his coat, he was nothing but a shell. He was 12 but looked about 30.

So yes, I do believe that sometime, there are cases to which euthanisia can happen.
 
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