Author Topic: Tough decisions ahead - quality of life in livestock and euthanasia  (Read 2890 times)


  • Pencil Stache
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One of our layers has a recurring case of bumblefoot (staph infection/abscess). When we first noticed the problem almost 2 months ago, we separated her for 4 days while washing her foot, applying antibiotic ointment, and keeping her on clean bedding. At first she seemed to be improving, so we returned her to her flock (we needed to balance caring for her foot with the hassle and stress of keeping her separated from her flock both for her and for us). But her limping worsened, and now the abscess is bigger, firmer, and the swelling seems to be creeping up her leg.  She limps badly, and she is in obvious pain because she often stands on her one good foot, and doesn’t like to bear weight on the infected foot. She is not laying, but she is eating, drinking, and socializing normally. We have once again separated her, and this time we are being as aggressive as possible with her treatment. We performed minor foot surgery and attempted to drain the abscess by excising the scab, removing as much of the infected core as we could (given how firm the pus is), rebandaging, and giving her a round of intramuscular penicillin injections. This regimen was decided on after online research, reading the experiences of other keepers on the internet, and also discussing the standard treatment of staph infected abscesses on humans with some physician friends. We hope that between the draining, clean bandaging, and the penicillin we can drastically improve her condition.

My question is – if we cannot cure her foot with the penicillin and the draining, at what point do we make the decision to put her down? I really don’t like the idea of just waiting months for the infection to kill her, but I am torn because she does seem to still have decent quality of life, as indicated by her appetite/drinking/socializing/foraging despite her painful foot. The idea of constantly separating her and subjecting her to the stress of ongoing bandaging/surgeries/injections is also a really poor option, but I also don't want to just give up on her either. Our vet will put her down for a minimal fee, so the actual euthanasia will be as good a death as one can hope for in this world. I simply do not trust myself to do a clean, swift kill so a DIY cull is just not an option.

I have never had to make the tough decision to put an animal down - all of my pets so far have died of natural causes.

So mustachians with livestock or small companion animals - what would you do in this situation?


  • Pencil Stache
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I am sorry to hear that :( and I am assuming you are talking about a chicken, correct?

I would look at a few different things:
- Are you okay with just having her around if she is not laying (eggs? if this is a chicken)?
- Are you okay with the fact that this is a contagious infection and may transfer to the other chickens despite your best efforts?
- How old is she and how long do chickens live in general?

I personally think if she is not getting better, it may be time to euthanize her.


  • Walrus Stache
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I have had to put down a few dogs and it is so hard. I would give it a few weeks and if still infected do the humane thing. Hugs:))


  • Magnum Stache
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Coming from a chicken perspective, if she is pain, I would put her down. Even if she is still foraging/eating/socializing.

But I'm not super attached to any individual chicken. We got ours knowing we would cull them.


  • Stubble
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    • Evgenia Got FI
I work with livestock regularly. I've assisted ranchers with putting down the occasional sheep or goat. I think virtually all of them would put the animal down in this case. I've seen a few similar cases in larger animals, of severe hoof rot that spread, for instance. If your current aggressive treatment doesn't work, it's not likely anything else will, and that her pain will worsen.

In general, I err on the side of "Better too soon than too late." It is more merciful.

I agree with getting a vet to do it if you can't or don't want to make a clean kill. It will be over in a split second. Indeed, I wish my own death to be as painless and swift as that I've seen given to suffering animals. They have a much better set of options than do we humans.

I'm sorry that you face this decision. It sounds like you treat your animals wonderfully, and I know how terrible it can be to have to even consider this. I wish you the best possible under the circumstances.


  • Bristles
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If the animal is likely feeling unrelieved pain, I would strongly consider euthanasia. Euthanasia is considered more humane than natural death, since there's usually a lot less suffering, and animals don't have the same self-ruminating, philosophical sentiment about death that humans do.
If it's just limping due to the mechanics of the problem, and the foot is ugly but the duck doesn't seem in pain, you should choose based on your willingness to give treatment or other considerations such as separation from the other ducks. Social animals find it very stressful to be alone, possibly as much as or more than they find pain stressful.


  • Handlebar Stache
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I'm sorry you're needing to look into this decision.  I cannot really offer advice as I don't know much about ducks, though I'll note that animals in general are often far more stoic than we humans realize, partly because as herd/pack and/or prey animals, they don't want to draw attention to their weaknesses/vulnerabilities. 

As someone who has made the decision to euthanize animals, I'll also note that the process is way, way, way faster than I imagined it would be, before I'd ever witnessed it.  And -- the loss it entails notwithstanding -- pretty peaceful.  I don't know if your duck can be handled in a way that is pleasant for her (I don't know how tame she is), but if so it should be possible to spend some time treating her kindly, e.g. feeding her treats, and then hopefully distract her (assuming she isn't THAT tame) while a vet administers the necessary compounds, and then stay with her while her heart stops beating (in a matter of minutes).

Again, I'm sorry you're needing to consider this.  I hope she will recover.