Pulse: weak and rapid ~ 120 per minute
Respiration: harsh, labored ~ 68 per minute
Capillary refill: slow
He was on his side in the pasture, sweating and groaning. Fluids and mucus rolled out of his flared nostrils.
He couldn't get up.
Mouth open, eyes half closed, he lay there with front legs stiffened. His back legs had given out on him.
His gut noises were non existent.
Blow flies gathered heavily on his legs. I had to brush them away as I tried to recount his vitals.
Rich pulled on his tail and tapped him with a lunge whip.
We tried to get him on his feet to no avail.
Chaps was in pain, he was dying.
Our neighbor had called us for help. She had called around for a veterinarian. The vet she got in contact with couldn't come out for another 24 hours.
Could we come and help with Chaps?
Chaps was 30+ years old gelding with numerous tumors. They'd been letting him live out his last days retired and wandering a nice grassy pasture. Apparently Chaps had gone down a few times during the past 24 hours.
But this morning he'd gone down and they were only able to get him up once then his back legs had collapsed.
I put my hand on Chaps' curled and long coat, he was hot. The heat indices for the past few days had been 100 to 105 degrees.
The horse groaned again.
Normal Vital Signs of an Equine are:
Pulse: 28 to 40 beats per minute
Respiration: 10-20 per minute
Capillary refill: with in 2-3 seconds
Gums: Pale pink
What was the humane thing to do?
Have the horse lay in the pasture and suffer for another day?
Chaps would not make it through the night, he was suffocating and in pain.
The owner asked if we would put him down.
Chaps is no longer in pain.
Being able to provide a swift and humane death to prevent more suffering is important for us to be able to recognize and do.
Death with dignity.
I knelt next to Chaps afterward and stroked his old long neck. My heart was heavy.
I'll miss his whinnying in the pasture when I ride by with a mule.
...and I know the day will come when I'll have to utter those same words to a vet or be prepared to 'put down' one of my own in an emergency situation.
Here is an interesting link to an article by the UC Davis School of Veteran Medicine, California on Emergency Euthanasia of Horses.