Euthanasia (from the Greek meaning "good death") refers to the practice of intentionally ending a life in order to relieve pain and suffering.
Planning for End of Life
Making the decision to assist in the death of your horse
may be one of the most difficult decisions you ever make. Some
individuals have a spiritual, religious or personal belief system that
does not support euthanasia. For others it is considered a thoughtful
and humane decision. It can be helpful to do some planning ahead of time to enable you to
focus your energy and love on your horse. Creating plans does not mean
you are giving up hope, but rather allows you to finalize the decision
making so that your attention to your horse is uninterrupted.
While people often hope for the horse to close their eyes and die peacefully in their sleep, this is rarely the case due to the effects of the horse's disease on the body systems. Instead, a natural death may be prolonged and possibly upsetting to witness. Euthanasia can provide you with some control over the circumstances of your horse's death, control that a natural death may eliminate. Gathering information can be helpful to prepare you for this difficult day.
Questions To Ask Your Veterinarian
- What are the details of the euthanasia procedure?
- What are options for the location of the euthanasia?
- How far in advance should the appointment be scheduled?
- Does the veterinarian you wish to perform the euthanasia have times or days that he or she will not be available?
- What is a back-up plan in case your horse has an emergency? Who should you call or go to?
- What would a natural death look like for your horse, considering the horse's disease process?
Questions To Ask Yourself And Family
- Who will be there?
- Where will the euthanasia occur? At your home, at a veterinary hospital?
- Which veterinarian will help?
- What are your wishes for the care of your horse's body? Some options may include private or group cremation, rendering, or burial at home.
- Would you like to have a necropsy, the horse version of an autopsy, performed? This can sometimes provide answers to questions you have about your horse's illness or injury.
- An injection of the euthanasia solution will be administered in the vein of the patient. In some instances the patients veins are very fragile or the patient may move, necessitating the need to replace the needle in another vein. This medication causes the patient to become completely unconscious very rapidly. It then causes the heart and lungs to stop working.
- Horses tend to be standing during the procedure and will fall when they become unconscious. They may fall forward, to the side or backwards and we ask that clients stand away during this time to avoid injury.
- Your doctor will then use a stethoscope to listen for the absence of a heart beat.
- Sometimes the patient will take a deep breath or loss control of urine or feces. This is normal.
- Horses do not close their eyes when they pass.
The horses in your life are often more than just horses. They are family
members, friends, sources of support, confidantes, and suppliers of
unconditional love. When they are no longer with you, either from death
or other circumstances, you grieve just as you would any other
significant loss in your life. This is a natural process as you adjust
to the changes in your life, creating new routines and patterns to your
Grief is one of the most normal and natural occurrences that you can experience after a loss; yet it is one of the most misunderstood. When you grieve, you can experience a myriad of emotions that can affect each area of your life: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual. One moment you may be angry, the next you may cry, and then you may decide to get busy with a task and instead crawl into bed and go to sleep.
This roller coaster effect, which leaves some people wondering if they are normal, is part of the natural process of grieving, with nothing crazy about it. It is a very healthy psychological and physical response that requires expression and acknowledgement. Attempts to suppress feelings of grief can sometimes actually prolong the healing process.
These are some ideas to help as you process your grief for your beloved companion:
Give yourself permission to grieve
You've experienced a tremendous loss. You deserve the opportunity to grieve as you need to. Surround yourself with others who understand the bond you had with your companion horse and who you can openly talk with about your grief without fear of judgment. Try and pay no heed to comments from misunderstanding individuals.
Acknowledge and express your feeling
This can help release some of the energy from within you and allow you to gain perspective. Talk with those you trust. If you have difficulty talking about your feelings with others, journaling or writing a letter may be a helpful way to process your emotions. Some other creative expressions that capture your feelings may include creating artwork with clay, oils, pastels, painting, drawing, designing a shadow box or collage, and writing stories or poetry.
- Identify what has been helpful with past losses
You already have a wealth of coping skills that you've created throughout your life. Regardless of the magnitude of previous losses, from misplacing keys to losing a loved one, you made it through those losses using your strength and skills. Identify what has helped before and call on that now.
- Give yourself permission to backslide
Grief is neither predictable nor unavoidable. It just happens. Grief can overcome you in waves of emotion, ebbing and flowing much like the tides of an ocean. This loss is causing a lot of changes in your life and it will take time for you to adapt.
After a loss, you experience many firsts; the first morning to not fill the food bowl, the first afternoon to not go for a walk, the first time to go to bed without sharing your pillow, the first time you watch television with an empty lap, first birthday after a loss, first anniversary of the death and so on. These events can knock you backwards into strong grief emotions for a while. Be aware and prepared for these events so you can give yourself permission to grieve strongly again. It can help to call in advance on those who support you.
- Be patient with yourself
Grieving a significant relationship takes time, much more time than society sanctions. Go easy on yourself!
- Find a special way to say goodbye to your horse
Society promotes rituals for humans such as funerals and receptions. Create your own ritual for your horse, a loss often as significant as that of a human. You can write an obituary, hold a celebration of your horse's life, donate to a cause in your horse's name, plant a tree or bush, or create something. If the loss was unexpected, you can write a letter or talk to a photo of your horse, telling him all the things you didn't get a chance to say. You can also write a letter from your horse, expressing what he or she would say to you, something only you could know for sure.
- Do something that brings you joy
Allowing yourself to smile doesn't mean you miss your horse any less, only that you are taking care of yourself through your heartache.
Children and Grief
The death of a family horse is often a child's first experience with loss. Children experience grief also, though their age and development levels influence their grief reactions. They express grief differently than adults due to shortened attention spans and varying intellectual levels of understanding death and loss. Each child is unique and overlap occurs across levels of development.
There are several factors that can complicate your grief, so allow yourself some permission for additional grieving time. Some of these factors include:
- No previous experience with significant loss, death, or grief
- Other recent losses
- A personal history involving multiple losses
- Little or no support from friends or family
- Societal norms that trivialize and negate the loss
- Insensitive comments from others about the loss
- Generally poor coping skills
- Feelings of guilt or responsibility for a death
- Untimely deaths like those of children, young adults, or young companion horses
- Deaths that happen suddenly, without warning
- Deaths that occur after long, lingering illnesses
- Deaths that have no known cause or that could have been prevented
- An unexplained disappearance
- Not being present at death
- Not viewing the body after death
- Witnessing a painful or traumatic death
- Deaths that occur in conjunction with other significant life events like birthdays, holidays, or a divorce
- Anniversary dates and holidays after the loss
- Stories in the media that misrepresent or cast doubt on medical treatment procedures
- Advice based on others' negative experiences or on inaccurate information about normal grief
- After any loss, especially one of this magnitude, it may be helpful to seek out the assistance of a grief counselor or other mental health professionals to Support You Through Your Grief.