Euthanasia and Horses: Knowing When its Time

This post will be different and much more personal than most of my other posts on The Naturally Healthy Horse.  It might be difficult for some of you to read, too.  But deciding when euthanasia is the best option for your equine companion is something many of us will have to deal with at some point in time.  For me, it was last week.

The thought of having to euthanize one of my horses has always been in the back of my mind–especially since I have several senior horses.  It’s a decision most of us dread.  How will I know if it’s really time?  I don’t want to act too soon, but I don’t want to prolong unnecessary suffering. These are common thoughts, I’m sure.  But sometimes circumstances occur that make the decision easier for us.  This was the case for me, fortunately.

My oldest horse, P.K., had steadily gone downhill this last winter (losing weight and showing signs of depression) and was beginning to suffer from chronic colic.  Despite my best efforts to help her gain weight, she continued to decline.  I was prepared several weeks ago to make the decision when she colicked, but she recovered and seemed to be doing better.

Then last Wednesday, she colicked again.  This time, it was worse.  I felt I’d been given a sign, and I knew it was time.  I called my vet out.

Surprisingly, I was able to maintain a sense of peace once the decision had been made.  I still  had an injectable pain-killer from the last episode when the vet had been out, so I gave it to her.  I brushed her and said my good-byes.  My husband stayed with P.K. and the vet while she was put to sleep.  I knew I couldn’t handle that part.

P.K. was 25 and I felt good knowing I had given her the best life I possibly could.  She is now buried on our property, along with three other horses.

So how does one know when the time is right?  Aside from the obvious, traumatic injuries, here are some guideposts that might help you make a decision.  Of course, every situation is unique, but euthanasia may be the best option when:

  • Any chronic condition exists that fails to respond to veterinary or supportive care, and as a result, the horse is in continuous discomfort;
  • The horse is not eating and showing no interest in eating over a period of time;
  • A chronic condition exists that interferes with your horse’s ability to stand or move;
  • The horse has become despondent and depressed; doesn’t show a will to live;
  • The horse is in obvious, chronic pain.

Choosing to euthanize a horse is likely one of the most gut-wrenching decisions a horse owner will ever have to make.  But I feel it is often a compassionate decision.  It is a way to cut short our beloved horse’s as well as our own suffering.

I found that focusing on the positives–the good life you’ve given your horse, the joy the horse has given you, the beauty of the never-ending cycle of life and death–made the situation easier for me.  Also during any time of loss, I try to remember Lord Alfred Tennyson’s words, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Rest in peace, The PK Kid (1988-2013).







Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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