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End of life care for a llama - seeking natural ways to improve quality of life

 
R Ranson
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I'm sorry to say that this thread is going to end sadly. If you're in a teary place, may I recommend this thread.

This is a really heavy topic, but it's part of farming and you know what, death is part of life. I think it's something I would like to try talking about.

Max, one of our rescue llamas, is very old. We don't know exactly how old, but it's super, super old for a llama according to the experts.

In the last few weeks, he's behaviour has begun to change. All our care and yes, even veterinary medicines, don't seem to be doing the trick. With a sinking feeling in our heart, we consulted the local llama lady (the vet is more sheep and goats kind of guy). She says it's classic end of life situation and our duty now is to make him as comfortable as possible and choose a method of euthanasia for when the time comes (probably a few days or weeks from now, depending on his condition).

Just to emphasize, we are using modern medicine and techniques to help this fella. You know how it is, I want to do everything I can, which includes more natural remedies.

Are there any natural things we can do to prevent or reduce pain? Any plants or herbs? Minerals? What about poppies and willow bark?

What natural methods can I use to improve his quality of life until the end?


Thank you for your understanding. I'm having a really tough time with this, but I know the people here are supportive and kind, so that's why I'm risking sharing this with you.

 
Tyler Ludens
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We cared for my sister's 30+ year old horse during her last months. She was unable to get up on her own so we built a rig to lift her up after she took a deep sleep (horses light sleep standing but lie down to really take a rest). Fortunately she passed away naturally. Our vet told us the best way to euthanize herbivores is to shoot them in the head rather than by injection because the injections can just make them suffocate to death.

I don't know if willow bark and poppies have the same action in llamas as they do in humans, that might bear some research and possibly be a good course of action, but be aware in humans anyway, overdose of poppy doesn't always just cause someone to fall asleep permanently, there can be distressing symptoms such as difficulty breathing, and vomiting. Is there a modern medicine pain med you can give Max to make him more comfortable, one with known side effects? You definitely don't want to be experimenting on him.

I wish I had more advice, beyond giving Max extra pats and treats, if he likes them. My favorite cat, Hermione, is dying of cancer, so I'm going through a similar situation these days. She's not in pain. The vet said to give her as much food as she wants, whenever she wants it. She's sure enjoying that! And we give her lots of cuddling.


 
Burra Maluca
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Tyler Ludens wrote:Our vet told us the best way to euthanize herbivores is to shoot them in the head rather than by injection because the injections can just make them suffocate to death.


When I put my old pony down when his pain levels were too high I used a lethal injection as he'd been abused and was frightened by anything that looked like a stick, so I didn't want a gun pointing at his head. I'd never use the injection again having seen how long it took. I've also had a very old pony who just slowly lost condition and kidney function and just died in her sleep aged 36. That was the way to go! Also an ancient donkey who gradually lost the use of his back legs and would end up unable to get up and need lifting. He reached the point when he'd try to hide his head when he saw us approaching with the lifting straps, so we stopped lifting him back up. He didn't last more than a day or two once he was unable to stand, but we couldn't anyone to put him to sleep and the last few hours were very rough, though I'm not certain how conscious he was. I'm not sure if any of that helps you, or is even relevant to llamas, but I'd be very inclined to watch carefully for any sign that the pain or fear is reaching a stage where it's continuous and not likely to subside and step in quickly.
 
R Ranson
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Sad to hear about your cat. Sending good thoughts in your direction.

Max is getting extra treats, but he's anti-cuddles. He's still with the other members of his flock and they are being so good caring for him. We put out the treats, each gets their own bucket, and instead of fighting for first food, the boys stay back and won't eat until Max does. Then they only eat half of their buckets and let Max eat the rest. It's really sweet and kind of spooky to see how careful and respectful they are of Max's situation.

Choosing a method of euthanasia is difficult for me. The vet is very expensive and the chemicals he uses means the body will be so toxic it has to be disposed of in a hazardous waste facility (another expence). I don't like the idea of poisons that strong. Using a gun in our area is illegal, even for this kind of situation. I would have to transport him to a place where it's allowed. I worry transporting him to a new place would cause him more stress than I want. Then I have to find a way to dispose of the carcass... no, I'm not certain I'm up for thinking or talking about that part of the situation yet.

He's still eating, waste management is functioning, and he can get up on his own. He shows spirit and a will to live. So long as that lasts, and he's not exhibiting major pain symptoms, then we'll do our best to keep him comfortable.

The llama lady recommended we use something called Recovery (My goat lady says this too), so we're going to start that today. There are some really strong vet meds we can use, stronger than what we are using now, but I think the use is off label, so we don't know what the side effects would be and I'm concerned if this will make the meat toxic and poison the soil. I need more information.

There's a lot of research to do and the emotional nature of the situation makes it very difficult to focus. Maybe a reader here who is thinking of just starting livestock could be inspired to think about how they would handle this before the situation comes up.
 
Burra Maluca
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Do those gun laws apply to to a licensed slaughterer? Or to a hunter? Sometimes vets have a captive bolt gun - would that work? In the UK there was always a local knacker's man who would visit with a captive bolt gun and a high-sided truck with a winch. During a foot and mouth outbreak when no vets or slaughtermen would visit, I had a friend who's old pony couldn't get up again and she ended up taking a very sharp knife to the jugular and let her bleed out. She said it was horrible, but not as horrible as watching her suffer and not being able to relieve it any way.
 
R Ranson
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Thanks for sharing Burra. Somehow it makes me feel a little better to not be so alone.

He's actually displaying a very calm vibe these days. No fear, but some pain when we try to touch him. We brought him and his flock to his favourite place near the house. It's really small pasture, almost a paddock, that we use when we have to work with them - all rescues from very abusive situations, so they are difficult to work with. For some reason, this place calms them down. I don't like keeping them here more than a few days, but I think since it makes them happy they can stay as long as they like.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I strongly advise against transporting him at end of life, it is so traumatic. Even though it will be difficult, I think you should try to work out how he may be euthanized and at least tentatively arrange for disposal of the body ahead of time. If your vet uses these toxic chemicals, they should be able to help you with arrangements for proper disposal.

This link gives anecdotal information about use of willow for pain: https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006032004411
 
Tyler Ludens
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R Ranson wrote:Maybe a reader here who is thinking of just starting livestock could be inspired to think about how they would handle this before the situation comes up.


This is so important.
 
Dillon Nichols
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My sympathies, this is a hard enough situation when it's a smaller creature which can be dealt with with relative ease on the logistics side.


Using a gun in our area is illegal, even for this kind of situation. I would have to transport him to a place where it's allowed.


Are you likely to get caught? I've been plenty of places where the sound of shotgun/deer rifle is unremarkable, illegal as it may be; it's assumed that someone just shot a problem predator, or harvested a deer, and nobody thinks twice. (Twenty odd years ago, on my parents place in Saanich, a neighbours very large, very aggressive dog broke loose AGAIN, left their acreage, and chased our dog up our driveway. My dad went out with a baseball bat and it reluctantly departed. We called to complain yet again, they said they'd deal with it... shortly thereafter, a shotgun went off, and 'Bear' was never seen again. Sad, since the poor behavior was the owners responsibility... but no legal fallout. I'm sure that the various McMansion building city folks who've moved out here since then would place many 911 calls if this happened now, though.)

If you're likely to get caught due to the sound of a gunshot, you could consider taking care of this inside a structure for visual and a degree of sound concealment. Hearing protection for all involved would obv. be key.

I've heard that oil-filter 'silencers' are easy to make, and *very* illegal. Doesn't make the gun silent, but does drastically reduce the noise.

Obviously if you were to act on any of this speculation, it would be critical to 'shoot, shovel, and SHUT UP', possibly including on this forum.
 
R Ranson
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Re, the gun. I don't like to break the law if there is a better way. I also have very nosey neighbours who call the authorities for any little infraction, so a gun is not my best option.

I do have an emergency backup plan if Max (or any animal) shows extreme distress, so don't fear, I won't let him suffer needlessly.

Mostly right now, Max only shows pain when we touch him. I want to give him a shot called NewCells, as this is full of vitamins and all sorts of good things for him, but I am feeling conflicted about causing him excess destress. It's very difficult to know when helping is going to cause more harm and discomfort, or when helping is going to actually help. Because he's a rescue and has issues, I am inclined to do the minimum physical interaction necessary. When he starts displaying anxiety or pain, then I'll take more action. This could be days or it could be months away.


I'm also very sad to talk about the ending part.
If it's okay with you guys, can we focus on brainstorming possible ways to improve his quality of life for these last few days/weeks? I don't even know where to start looking for natural llama remedies.
 
R Scott
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We feed turmeric, black pepper, and vitamin C (bulk from Amazon) and a joint and muscle health supplement that I normally take. It will let animals stand on their own when they can't without it.

My choice for a quiet low stress (on the animal) end is a very sharp knife to an artery. They just fade away. It is incredibly hard on you, though.
 
R Ranson
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Max is doing considerably better today. If he can keep this up for a few days, he may be out of the woods and make it a few more months. He has such strength of life in him, that I hope he can do it... but the experts say it's unlikely.

Moving him and his flock somewhere they feel most comfortable really brightened his spirits. Not trying to handle him to give him meds &c has also made him brighter. Now we have free choice supplements like kelp and baking soda, as well as Recovery in his mash.


Still, his end is probably this summer. I wonder what other things I could provide for him to make him more comfortable?
 
Liz Gattry
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I don't have much experience with llamas- but I hate these kinds of situations. I found the following page selling natural supplements for camelids for arthritis that gives some weights and herbs you could try.
llama supplements

I saw this recommending MSM which is related to DMSO- you could speak to your vet about that. Fair warning- DMSO smells very very bad.

That being said there doesn't seem to be very much information (in english) on this topic on the animal forums I frequent. I wonder what's available in spanish or even arabic regarding camels.

 
R Ranson
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Thanks for the links liz.

I'm really curious about the Camelid Arthritis Herbal Blend, but I wonder why they have alfalfa in it can cause a lot of problems in llamas and alpacas. The other herbs look like good ideas, I'll see if I can talk Max into trying some of them.

So far, this has had a good effect for him. It has MSM and some other goodies in it, but sometimes he is just not in the mood for it.
 
Liz Gattry
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I'm wondering if the alfalfa is really for palatability? But who knows. As I said- I don't have that much experience with llamas. No worries. The other thing to keep in mind is just giving Max the finer things in life that he's always enjoyed. I think you're already doing that with where he's pastured and such, but just have a thought if there's any plants he's loved or anything like that.
 
K Putnam
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I'd like to offer a bit of an alternative perspective here. I have been involved in the management of a large equine rescue organization and have been present to say goodbye to a number of horses at the end. Every single passing has been peaceful. The single bullet to the head is by far the quickest and most affordable approach, but given that is not an option, I would go with euthanasia unless the cost is extremely prohibitive.

With horses, the first medication they give them is a sedative so that they are quiet and relaxed. They are sedated to the extent that they lay down. A vet and assistant help them lay down safely and quietly. Then, when they are down and quiet, you can say goodbye and administer the final medication. It is not a tragic toxic poisoning. It prevents the animal from having to go through a slow, painful natural death. If I was slowly dying of a disease, this is how I'd like to go out. A chance to say goodbye and then quietly slip away.

If you want to use an animal for an additional purpose, yes, you'll need access to a gun or the most humane way to dispatch a large animal in your area.

The point is, there are multiple appropriate ways to bring your llama's life to a peaceful end. The veterinary approach is a good one.

Meanwhile, if your llama is in pain, I would ask your vet if there is a species appropriate NSAID...bute or banamine perhaps?....to help manage his day-to-day comfort in addition to your natural remedies.
 
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