Monday was a very hard day, not at all the day I had planned out in my mind. It started out in the same manner that it has for the last two years, walking to the barn with Trillion standing at the gate watching me. Trillion was the alpha horse in his group, and since I always feed his pasture first he was the first horse I interacted with every day since he arrived almost two years ago.
I went about my usual preparations, filling my soaking buckets with hot water, scooping feed into feedbags, etc. As I prepare the first round of feed I’m always looking at Trillion and friends since they are often in my line of sight. I saw another typical scene, Trillion reminding Asterik that he is not going to jump the line and be fed first. It seemed to be a pleasantly routine start to the day.
As I was finishing the last of my food prep I looked out at the boys again. Instead of standing in his usual position with his head over the gate as he had been, Trillion’s head was down, nose almost touching the ground. All of a sudden it seemed that something was not quite right with Trillion. I walked over with the feedbags and Trillion lifted his head up so I could put his feedbag on, but he did it without his usual enthusiasm. I put the rest of the feedbags on, walked back to Trillion, and he was just barely picking at his food. I immediately took him into the barn. He did not really act very distressed, no pawing, he never tried to lie down, he just wanted to stand there with his head down.
Amy carried on feeding horses while Jason and I looked after Trillion. His temperature was normal but his heart and respiratory rates were elevated. Something was definitely bothering him so we called the vet clinic. Luckily one of our main vets happened to be very close by and was at the farm within 20 minutes. While we waited Trillion just stood quietly. When the vet arrived we got bad news right away. He said he could not hear any gut sounds at all on right side and almost none on the left. Jason immediately went to hook the trailer up while the vet pulled blood. The vet left to go back to the clinic and start the blood work while we got Trillion on the trailer and went to the clinic. Trillion walked right on the trailer and we were at the clinic shortly.
More diagnostics followed at the clinic with an exam including rectal palpation and a thorough ultrasound. More bad news followed the examination. The two vets who were examining him were very confident based on the extensive ultrasound and palpation that Trillion was experiencing lipoma strangulation. Lipomas are not uncommon in horses, basically they are fatty tumors that form internally. Sometimes these tumors can have long stalks that can twist around back onto themselves, and ‘strangle’ anything that they wrap around, which in Trillion’s case happened to be his intestines. The only thing that puzzled everyone at the clinic was how Trillion was acting. He never did anything other than stand quietly and act lethargic. I told them that although Trillion had a big personality he was definitely not a drama queen.
The only way to treat lipoma strangulation is through surgery, both to remove the lipoma(s) and to potentially resection any of the damaged intestines. At almost 25 years old, even though he was perfectly healthy otherwise, no one was going to put Trillion through that. We decided to go ahead and try to treat him medically (vs. surgically) on the chance that he was experiencing an impaction and not a strangulating lipoma. Trillion was started on IV fluids, tubed with oil and water, given some medications, and then there was not a lot to do except see how he responded.
Trillion never showed any pain response at all except lethargy. The vets said I must have seen the very beginnings of it since he was acting so perky and normal at the gate one minute, and when I looked out the next minute he was acting lethargic. He probably turned his body just right that the lipoma was pulled tight and the discomfort set in instantly. He continued to decline at the clinic despite the medications and fluids. He did not act any differently but all of his vital signs were getting worse, with his pulse rate going higher and higher. Within about four hours it became very clear that he absolutely did have a strangulating lipoma and that surgical intervention was the only treatment option. Despite the fact that Trillion was getting IV fluids his gums and tongue were starting to turn purple from dehydration. Trillion’s entire system was being cut off by the lipoma and nothing was getting through.
At that point a decision had to be made. Although Trillion had been very stoic through everything the vets said it was only a matter of time before he was going to be truly suffering (the word agony was used) from the pain. They said any other horse would have already been writhing on the floor and thrashing around. At his age Trillion was not a good candidate for either surgery or the recovery period after surgery which left only one choice, to end his suffering now instead of waiting a few more hours before he was really in agony. We said goodbye to Trillion and took his pain away. I’m honestly not sure if he was even aware of who was or was not around him at that point, but he left this world with dignity surrounded by me and many other caring people.