Pain Management and Euthanasia

Chaco and Maya


There’s a lot of information about the care and management of horses, however, when it comes to death and senior horses the primary word I stumble upon is euthanasia. I have always loved horses, but never wanted my own because I don’t kill things. I would enjoy other people’s horses, and as long as I never owned one, I’d never have to deal with euthanasia.

Then the first senior horse came needing help, and I knew I could help him. So for him, I decided I would deal with¬†euthanasia if I had to. It’s been 10 years now, and he’s still thriving.

Then the next senior horse came a handful of years later. With him too, I knew I could help him. So I decided that for just him, I would deal with euthanasia if I had to. Just shy of his fourth anniversary in retirement, he just laid down one day and died an instant, painless death from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Then Maya came. Of all the horses I have ever helped, she had the most internal problems that would most likely take her life if we couldn’t solve them in time. Euthanasia was a real possibility, however, I had hope and there were treatments to try. So I decided to take her on, and deal with euthanasia if and when the time came.

When Maya became septic and was in respiratory failure the last morning she was alive, my hope was that there would be a way to make her comfortable in the dying process, like they do with people. I soon found out that there is no palliative care for horses in this situation. I’d have to be giving hard core drugs possibly every thirty minutes possibly through the night just to manage the pain. And then the pain meds could stop working, and I’d have to find other ones. I’m not opposed to being up all night with a horse in the process of dying if I can make them comfortable. However, since that was not possible, and she was in severe pain, I decided to euthanize her.

When I look back on this, I really wanted the last decision to be her decision, to let her determine when her last breath would be. Yes, she was in pain, and yet, she did not want to go. And up until this point, I let her make most of the decisions.

Given the information I had at the time, I’m ok with the decision to euthanize her. However, I wonder if there are alternative treatments to euthanasia to make an animal more comfortable in the dying process. Is there any kind of bodywork that could take the edge off? I know there is with lower levels of pain, however, this was debilitating pain. And as I write this I recall the plant “bleeding heart” that is used for debilitating pain. Are there herbal options for pain management when dying? In addition, I know how people view this kind of pain, but I wonder how animals do.

At this point there are more questions than answers, but I have Maya to thank for putting the death/dying/euthanasia topic on the table.

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