By Dr. Robert Hunter, DVM
After eleven months of waiting, horse owners will be anxious to enjoy their new foal. If the mare has been given proper nutrition and medical attention during pregnancy, the gestation period was within the range of 340-350 days, and the birth took place within 30 minutes, it is most likely she will get through the delivery without any issues and the foal and mare will be off to a healthy start. There are several precautions to take to ensure that both mare and foal are functioning within the normal range for the first few hours after birth, in particular for maiden mares.
Steps To Take Immediately Following Birth
1. Make certain the environment in which the mare and foal reside is dry, clean and protected from harsh weather.
2. Once the umbilical cord has broken, dip the foal’s naval stump in chlorhexidine or betadine solution.
3. Prior to the foal nursing, wash the mare’s udders, stifles and elbows with a gentle liquid soap to avoid passing potentially harmful bacteria to the foal.
4. Store the placenta once it has fully passed from the mare so the veterinarian can check it for completeness and any abnormalities.
5. If needed, direct the foal to nurse within 2-4 hours, and make certain the mare is allowing the foal to nurse.
6. Sometimes the mare and foal should remain in their confined area for at least one week while the foal’s bones and cartilage harden.
It is important to have your new foal and the mare checked by your veterinarian within 12-48 hours of the birth. Infection is the foal’s worst enemy and can cause critical illness in less than one day. Your Sacramento vet will look for the following conditions in your mare and foal following the birth:
Newborn Foal Check
- Respiration rate approximately 40 breaths per minute
- Heart rate between 60-80 beats per minute
- Passed meconium within the first 2-4 hours, producing a dark sticky stool (stool should turn pasty yellow after meconium has completely passed)
- Foal is standing and nursing within two to four hours
- Foal and mare have bonded
- Adequate level of antibodies from ingestion of mare’s colostrums (IgG test)
- Normal urination
- Appropriate birth weight for the breed
- Silky coat or floppy ears (denoting premature birth)
- Strength and correctness of legs, contracted or relaxed tendons
- Check eyes and gums for Jaundiced yellowish appearance
- Check eyes for congenital cataracts
- Listen for heart murmur or residual fluid in lungs
- Color of mucus membranes
- Check for cleft palate
- Check for pain, swelling or drainage in the umbilicus (naval stump) and whether it has been properly treated to decrease infection
- Joint swelling or lameness
- Tetanus Antitoxin and E. Coli endotoxin will be administered to boost immune protection
- Vet can determine if it is OK to turn out, or leave in a small area for a period of time.
Foaling Mare Check
- Possible trauma to reproductive tract, vaginal tearing or excessive bruising
- Adequate colostrums and milk production
- Complete passage of placenta; no mastitis
- Colicky behavior
- Uterine culture to check for infection at nine day foal heat(even if not breeding back that year)
- Deworm mare within the first days post-foaling
Mother Nature equipped your mare and foal with the natural instincts to know when to stand, nurse and become active. Your job is to know when to take action and seek help. Your equine veterinarian will be able to monitor and aide the mare and foal most effectively if they are housed at a vet hospital that specializes in equine reproduction. At the least, make certain their emergency contact information is close at hand to ensure that you give your mare and foal every possibility to enjoy health and comfort.