Treatment and prevention

Euthanasia of the laminitic horse

No horse has ever died of laminitis. It is the severity and the duration of the disease and the complications, in combination with the lack of hope of recovery that make it necessary, at a certain moment, to ask ourselves whether it is still ethically acceptable to let the horse live.

Horses cannot represent their own interests. The responsibility to decide whether or not to euthanize a horse will therefore always be yours, as owner. You know your horse like no other; you are familiar with its history and recognize abnormalities in his behavioural characteristics. So, you are the first in line to assess the quality of your horse’s life. Although the final decision lies with you, in most cases the veterinarian is best able to make well-informed judgments about the balance between prognosis and well-being of the horse. They can see the situation of your horse in a broader perspective and compare it with other horses they have had in their practice.

A good veterinarian makes an objective assessment in which they will once again look extensively at the nature and severity of the causes, the lameness and the complications. They will critically evaluate the treatment methods that have been attempted and their outcomes. The success of pain management is very important in this. This ideal veterinarian consults with the other practitioners who treat your horse, such as the hoof care practitioner. Ideally, they are honest enough to also see to what extent you are able to provide the necessary care. If it is – for whatever reason – not possible to adequately help your horse, then it is not fair to let it suffer. It is up to you to decide what the outcome will be in that case.

The good veterinarian described here only makes statements about the interests and well-being of your horse. What the consequences for your career as a show jumper will be, now that your horse will be less usable for sports, is not their expertise. Moreover, there is no emotional connection biasing the outcomes of their objective assessment; something that can hardly ever said of the owner of the horse.

It is a difficult decision to make, and one that often takes the owner more time than the veterinarian considers desirable for the horse’s interest. Fortunately, they know that this is part of their work. They will give you the time to think about their advice. During this process, you should not hesitate to ask them again, if necessary, to expand on their recommendation. Ask the opinion of a second veterinarian if necessary. If you are convinced of a veterinarian’s recommendation to euthanize but you really cannot let go of your horse, terminal or palliative care may still be an option. Whether this is in the interest of your horse is uncertain.

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