As the cool fall air fills the barn yard, the leaves start to change and the grass hardens off; questions about who can and who will survive the winter fills our minds. Fall has always been one of my favourite times of year. It’s a time to reflect on the success of the year and reap the rewards of all our hard work. It’s a time to assess which horses have had a good or great summer and which ones have had their last summer. Winter in and around Kamloops can be tough, hard and uncompromising. It’s not one of those things you want to survive only to succumb to the pressures of old age in the early spring. It’s also difficult to bury horses after the frost has settled into the ground.
The decision when or if to euthanize is a personal decision.
What a person can provide for the geriatric patient is different for everyone. It can be impossible to provide the care that another person is capable of giving. Every horse is an individual as well. They can cope with different degrees of discomfort and caloric intake. Despite our greatest efforts a few horses will not be blanketed housed and fed mush or anti-inflammatories as required, because they miss their friends too much. Other horses love the attention and extra care.
The statement that” you will know when the time is right” is a difficult statement for me. Euthanasia and burial of a horse is a matter of organization and coordination. A decision to euthanize may not be able to be coordinated that day. Burial is difficult for several months of the year and is mandatory for euthanasia by injection.
Parameters I use for euthanasia are difficulty getting up and getting down. Horses need to lie down to sleep and arthritis can interfere with sleep. Inability to gain weight or a consistently low body condition score of 3 or less. (this is where the hips, ribs, and back bone are visible). Chronic lameness or pain, depression, severe lethargy are all indications that aggressive geriatric management or euthanasia are your only options.
Horses come into life dramatically and quickly and with a lot of force. (Birthing only takes 10 minutes and is a powerful event). Horses often die in the same manner dramatically and painfully. The thought that the horse will fall asleep and pass quietly in the night is extremely rare.
The euthanasia process involves sedation and an injection of a large volume of a barbiturate. This causes immediate anaesthesia and relaxation and eventually death. It can be dramatic as the horse quickly goes from standing to lying down. Some horses continue to move, have muscle contractions and breath in the next few minutes. Fortunately they are doing this with no pain. Finally they will have decreased heart beats and then will pass.
Euthanasia of a horse or pet is never any easy decision or one to be taken lightly. Discussion about how and when can be done with the veterinarians and staff at our clinic.