Winter Newsletter: Foal Health

The foals are coming! After nearly a year of preparation and anticipation, foaling season is upon us and the excitement for your new barn additions is at an all-time high!

Amidst the excitement, it’s important to determine if your foal is healthy as quickly after birth as possible. The first few hours after a foal’s delivery are a time of rapid development and adaptation to life outside of the womb.

In the first few minutes after birth, the foal should be able to lift its head, sit up while laying down, suckle fingers placed into its mouth, and move its ears to follow sound. The foal should stand by 1 hour of age and nurse within 2 hours. Foals should be watched carefully for frequent nursing during the first day of life, as foals are born without immune protection and require the passive transfer of antibodies from the mare’s colostrum (special milk produced by the dam at birth). Ingestion of adequate colostrum is essential for the development of antibodies needed to fight against viruses and bacteria. Foals that do not nurse well, and therefore have failure of passive transfer, can be identified by your veterinarian via blood test for IgG levels and can be treated with extra colostrum orally or given intravenous plasma to help provide proper antibody levels.

The foal should urinate and pass meconium (first manure) during the first 12 hours of life. A veterinarian should be contacted if the foal has not urinated or is posturing or straining to urinate without producing any urine. Similarly, the foal should pass the firm dark brown formed meconium balls within the first 12 hours of life. If the foal does not pass its meconium and/or shows signs of straining or colic, a veterinarian should be called to assess for meconium impaction. Once the meconium is passed, the remaining manure should be yellow-brown and soft in consistency.

The foal should be active in the stall and willing to interact with the mare. If the foal does not display these normal characteristics, immediate veterinary attention may be required. We recommend veterinary evaluation of all foals within the first 24 hours after birth to ensure no underlying health issues are present. Immediate veterinary attention should be sought for foals not displaying these normal behaviors.

The foal veterinary exam includes a thorough physical examination, including auscultation of the heart and lungs, palpation of ribs to check for fractures occurring during the birthing process, ocular examination to rule out corneal ulcers and common foal eye issues, and blood draw to check for adequate IgG antibody levels. Additional bloodwork may be recommended if any abnormalities are found upon examination. The veterinarian will also perform an examination of the placenta and the dam to ensure proper passage of all fetal membranes. In conclusion, careful observation of newborn foals by owners, caretakers, and a veterinarian is critical to early discovery of health concerns and ensure your new baby lives a long, healthy, and happy life. We wish everyone a healthy and happy foaling season and can’t wait to meet your new foals!

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