Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Your final gift to the horse world

The Equine Necropsy: A Sensitive but Important Topic | TheHorse.com

I get that the majority of horse owners are getting by on a thread and a toothpick when it comes to affording their horses and all those pesky expenses like mortgages, food, healthcare and the like.  I get that many horse owners try to keep their horses' end-of-life expenses down to a minimum:  A bullet and a backhoe for a day will suffice.

But I want to enter a plea on behalf of all of the horses and their owners around the world.  Sure, it's hard enough to deal with losing a companion. And there are many breeders who free-range their horses and are happy if none get eaten by predators before they're big enough to sell.  Still, even those folks rely on their vets to be alert and aware of all the new developments in veterinary medicine and keep on hand the latest medicines when emergency strikes.

I know I'm beating a dead horse (snorf!) when I once again plead for as many owners as can possibly afford it to allow (or even order) a necropsy on their animals when the cause of death isn't immediately apparent.  It's pretty obvious what killed a horse with a bullet hole in it or when the remains are scattered across the ground where predators are known to lurk.  I'm not talking about those horses.  Sorry for the crude imagery, but it's real as real can be.
No necropsy needed to determine
that this beautiful mare had squamous
cell carcinoma.

But when there's any kind of doubt, when the horse has suffered repeated colic episodes or shown symptoms of illness that were difficult to qualify, the extra cost of having the vet do a necropsy (that's an autopsy on an animal) is an amazing and welcome donation to the cause of the advancement of veterinary care for all horses.  Even if the vet thinks s/he knows what diseases the horse may have had, if s/he has any doubt at all or is at all interested in finding possible links between a fatal colic episode and a possibly undiagnosed problem, s/he may request permission to do a little research.  Say yes.

I had a necropsy done on a gelding with a bizarre growth on his face that turned out to be a very rare tooth root tumor.  The tumor was so rare that Cornell University's Veterinary School requested that I have the horse's head shipped to them.  I was happy to let them see something they night never have seen otherwise.  Down the line, that experience might translate into another horse surviving though ours didn't.  It took months and the lucky happenstance of finding a link online to the one person who knew what we were dealing with.  The next owner might not spend as many thousands of dollars as I did to get the same answer.

I also had a necropsy done on my favorite mare.  I asked that they not tell me the results if it turned out I could have cured or prevented what killed her.  Turned out I couldn't. Cancer has its own rules.  It was a small breath of relief in a sea of sadness knowing that I could let my guilt go. And my daughter had one done on her beloved Morgan.  Even though it was inconclusive, at least she was able to rule out some of the worst possible causes to the relief of the barn owner and other boarders where the horse was being kept.
We couldn't have guessed that the
sudden, repeated attacks of colic meant
Fancy's gut was riddled with cancer
lesions without a necropsy.

The mare with the external tumor who'd already had surgeries and chemo...no necropsy needed there.  But it was thanks to other owners' willingness to make that final donation that she got an additional eight years of happy, pain-free life.  The new treatments that she received were a direct result of research done on other horses like her.

My sole regret is that I did not request that a necropsy be done on the very old horse who suffered an infection the source of which we could only guess at.  I have my theories, but they'll never be confirmed or disproved.  If I'm right, another step forward in equine care might have come from finding that out.

So at the risk of belaboring a topic everyone hates, I'm choosing to bring this up during the holiday season when hearts are more open to giving and minds less closed to the possibilities that generosity can afford.  Give the horse world a gift this year, and set aside the amount of money it costs in your area to have a necropsy done.  If you don't lose a horse yourself, offer to help a friend pay for this incredibly valuable procedure.  You'll be doing more good than you can imagine.  The equine life you save might belong to your next horse.
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