All About Foals!
by Dr. Amanda Wilson
At Exclusively Equine, we love foals! Who doesn't? They are cute, boisterous, and come with hopefulness for what the future holds.
If your mare is having a foal this spring, it can be an exciting and busy time of year! Along with all of the healthcare considerations for your mare, there are additional considerations for the health of the newborn foal. This article will discuss the process of foaling through the first several months of life and the health issues your foal could encounter along the way.
During foaling, mares go through three stages of labor. The first stage begins with restlessness and "nesting" behavior of the mare and ends with rupture of the outer layer of the placenta, or allantoic sac, commonly referred to as the "water break." This stage can last up to 24 hours.
The second stage of labor is complete upon expulsion of the foal and should occur within 30 minutes of water breaking. You will begin to see placental structures at the mare's vulva before the foal. These structures should appear yellow/white and glossy. Redness of the placenta is an emergency and if observed, you should call your veterinarian immediately because the foal could be losing its oxygen supply. After the placenta you should observe two front feet followed shortly by the nose and head. If not observed, call your veterinarian immediately.
Once the foal is born, the third stage of labor begins which involves expulsion of the placenta. The mare should expel the placenta within two hours of the foal's birth. If possible, collect the placenta in a trash bag and keep on ice until your veterinarian can examine it during the first foal visit.
A normal, healthy foal should stand within one hour of birth. Foals will make several wobbly attempts before they get it right. Foals should latch on and nurse successfully within two hours of birth. This is important because mare's first milk contains colostrum, a substance packed with antibodies that are transferred to the foal and protect him from disease. If the foal does not successfully nurse within the first few hours of life, veterinary intervention may be needed to ensure the foal is adequately protected from disease.
A newborn foal should pass meconium (first feces) within 24 hours of birth. Occasionally, meconium can become impacted within the rectum and cause the foal to become uncomfortable, often displayed by frequent swishing of the tail and posturing to defecate without producing any manure.
Within 24 hours of birth, your veterinarian should perform an examination on both mare and foal. The mare will be examined for any tears she may have sustained during the foaling process. It is at this time that your veterinarian will examine the placenta as well to ensure that there were no issues during pregnancy.
Your veterinarian will examine the foal carefully from nose to tail to detect any congenital (present at birth) abnormalities. Your veterinarian will most likely draw blood at this time to test for antibodies present in the foal's blood that provide protection from disease.
Within the first few days of birth, foals should be very active with intermittent periods of rest. Foals will nurse up to ten times an hour, followed by brief naps. If your foal seems dull, unable to nurse, or unaware of its surroundings, you should seek veterinary care immediately. These could be early signs of sepsis, or infection.
As your foal grows, exercise can be beneficial to his development. Most foals benefit from regular turnout with their dam. Some foals exhibit irregular growth of the long bones and joints of their limbs and occasionally intervention is necessary before fusion of growth plates occur. Intervention of these growth abnormalities by your veterinarian may involve hoof trimming, therapeutic shoe application, and/or surgery.
Respiratory disease can afflict foals of any age, but foals 2 to 6 months of age can be especially susceptible to Rhodococcus equi, a bacterial respiratory infection of foals. Foals with Rhodococcus commonly cough, have nasal discharge, fevers, and an increased respiratory rate.
We recommend administering a foal's first vaccines at 5-6 months of age and deworming at 4-5 months of age. Foals typically receive different dewormers than adult horses, and a fecal egg count (FEC) to determine what parasites are present is important in helping your vet make the decision on which dewormer to use.
Weaning is typically done at around 6 months of age, and can be a very stressful time for a foal. Monitor your foal closely during this time for signs of illness.
The first several months of life are critical to setting up your horse for a lifetime of health and early interventions can make a significant difference in your foal's chances at a successful future. Your veterinarian is a tool in ensuring that success and we are here to answer any questions you may have about the process.
|Dr. Wilson demonstrating appropriate foal restraint technique (ridiculous grin optional)