One of the saddest parts of owning or loving a horse is knowing when it’s time to say goodbye. There are signs a horse is dying. Horses, like nearly all other animals, have life spans shorter than their human partners. While a horse could stay with one person its whole life, people will likely have multiple horses throughout their lifetimes.
Horses can live to be up to about 30 years old, but most horses will pass away in their mid to late 20’s. There are many reasons a horse could be dying, including bizarre sickness and tragic accidents.
But in this article, I will only be focusing on reasons that accompany old age. I will be discussing behavioral and physical signs that your horse may be ready to cross the rainbow bridge, and what you can do to help both your horse and yourself through this difficult process and the decisions and emotions that accompany it.
Signs a Horse is Dying: Reasons They May be Dying
There are many reasons a senior horse could be nearing the end of its lifetime. Senior horses, like any other senior animals, are more prone to illnesses and injuries than younger horses. Even smaller injuries and illnesses can become larger problems as a horse age.
Senior horses can develop any number of sicknesses that can rapidly decline their health. Some of these illnesses include Cushings, colic, laminitis, perpetual coughs, and more. Any of these illnesses can wear a senior horse down if they persist.
Senior horses are also more susceptible to injuries than younger horses. It is harder for a senior horse to get back up after falling, or to get over a stone bruise on his hoof. These seemingly harmless injuries can pose a bigger threat to a senior horse’s health and well-being than to that of a younger horse.
All of these things can contribute to a senior horse’s decline into the last few months of weeks of his life. The best thing to do to care for your horse is to watch for signs that it may be their time to pass on.
Signs a Horse May be Dying
First and foremost, the signs your horse will show that indicate that they are nearing their time to pass on will depend on what the reasoning is for their unwellness.
For example, a horse that has been struggling with colic may stop eating. A horse that has been struggling with laminitis may lose motivation when trying to stand up.
The best way to identify these little tell-tale signs is to know your horse. Spend time with your senior horse and get to know his habits. Where does he like to stand in his pasture, what does he do when he is brought into his stall?
What is behavior like when he gets fed, how quickly does he eat? Does he respond to seeing other horses, does he respond to seeing you? If he is still being ridden at the time, how does he respond to exercise, both during and afterward?
The biggest signs you will have that your horse may be declining will be changes in his everyday behavior. If the answers to the questions listed above are changing, it may be time to start discussing options with your vet.
What You Can Do if There are Signs a Horse is Dying
The process of deciding when it is your horse’s time to go is quite possible the most difficult thing about owning a horse. Thankfully, there are many great services and resources available to help you and your horse through this difficult time.
First and foremost, be in regular communication with your vet. Make sure your vet knows your horse’s unique situation, and make sure your vet knows about any drastic changes that have been going on in your horse’s behavior. Always consult your vet before making any decisions in regard to your horse’s health and wellbeing.
Signs a Horse is Dying: Horse Hospice
Just like there is hospice care for people when they are nearing the end, there is also hospice care for horses. Some horse owners do not like the idea of euthanizing their equine partners. If that is the case, hospice services for horses are available.
These services can be provided by owners or by hired hospice companies. Most equine hospice programs involve removing the senior horse from its herd, giving it a comfortable and clean place to lay down, and providing it with natural comforts such as essential oils and probiotics.
At the risk of allowing their equine partners to suffer in pain or discomfort, many horse owners will elect to euthanize their horses when they feel that their horse is ready. This can be an extremely difficult decision and is best made with the support of a vet.
When horses stop eating, stop moving around, and stop performing basic functions, most horse owners know it’s time to call their vet.
Once you have made the difficult decision to let your horse pass on, or your horse has passed on naturally, there are a few options you can choose from. It is possible for your equine partner to be buried. If you live on a private farm or have access to a pet cemetery, this could be an option for you.
Equine burial services exist, but are limited in quantity; you would have to do research to see if there is one near to you. An equine burial can be extremely expensive, as it does take a significant amount of effort and machinery to move a horse after he has passed away.
Cremation and Other Services
The more popular alternative is cremation. Many, many horse owners elect to have their horse cremated than buried. Equine cremation is fairly straightforward, and there are many pet cremation companies that provide equine services.
With equine cremation, the owner has the option to select which kind of urn they would like their horse to be placed into. They also frequently have the option to have a portion of the horse’s mane or tail made into a bracelet or other memento.
Equine cremation services also sometimes provide shadowboxes, photo frames, and other services in addition to cremation. Frequently, they will come to pick up your horse after he has been euthanized and will perform the services within a week or two of pickup.
Seeing your horse’s health decline is never easy. But, knowing your options and understanding the changes your horse is showing can help you navigate these difficult times.
I hope this article has helped you understand what to look for in your declining senior horse, and what you can do to help! If so, please share this article and share with us what your experiences have been!