A foal’s health can change overnight, so it’s important to keep a close eye on any signs and symptoms before the disease develops.
If you are an aspiring breeder, chances are you expect your mare to foal with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. While most births are normal and most foals are born without complications, there is still a small risk of complications during delivery.
Studies show that most deaths and illnesses in foals occur during the critical first week of life. The foal is most vulnerable at this time.
Premature birth, i.e. Carrying a mare foal up to 320 days has a great impact on his health. Those foals that were born at least a week ahead of time later have weaker health than those born on time. A premature foal will be smaller in size, have very sparse silky hair, soft cartilage, elastic hooves and will be very weak – sometimes too weak to stand.
Often, premature foals have underdeveloped internal organs, which leads to problems with breathing and thermoregulation (the ability to maintain body temperature). Chromosome abnormalities are common, as well as a condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), in which an active foal becomes weak and lethargic in a matter of hours.
Some premature foals have an underdeveloped gastrointestinal tract, which prevents them from absorbing breast milk. These foals have to be fed intravenously.
Today, specialists manage to increase the survival rate of more than 65% of preterm foals, and even foals born before the 300th day of gestation, with intensive care, survive.
Birth of a foal
In a normal delivery, the foal should:
- Be alert and active.
- Must take a sternum position for 15 minutes.
- Try to get to your feet within 30 minutes of birth.
- Stand and start sucking milk within two to three hours after birth.
- Produce meconium – the first sticky dark manure – within 12 hours. Some foals are constipated and need an enema.
- The pulse is more than 60 beats per minute, which will gradually increase one hour after birth.
- Respiratory rate 60-80 breaths per minute immediately after birth, which levels off to 30-40 breaths per minute after an hour.
Since the immune system of a newborn foal is still weak, it needs to be strengthened with the mother’s milk, which the mare produces during the first 12-24 hours after birth, and which is rich in antibodies that can protect the baby from disease. If the foal does not receive this portion of antibodies during the critical period, then there is a very high risk of infection from almost every pathogenic microorganism in the environment.
However, not receiving maternal antibodies is not the only risk factor for a foal’s health. Difficult or forced labor, maternal infections or other abnormalities of pregnancy can directly affect the foal’s health.
Sometimes the mare refuses the foal, showing fear or even aggression. In this case, the cause of this behavior (eg, swollen udder or mastitis) should be investigated immediately.
The first days of the foal
It is very important to know what “should” happen in the first few weeks of your foal’s life. Here is a basic timeline of major events in a healthy foal’s life.
In the first two days:
- The foal will suck milk several times an hour, completely emptying the mother’s udder. A full, hot udder means the foal is not feeding properly.
- He will often lie down for a short time with a breathing rate of 30-40 breaths per minute.
- He will urinate and defecate frequently and in small amounts. Most foals urinate as soon as they get to their feet.
- Many foals are born with weak, arched legs. You do not need to worry if your foal gets tangled and hesitant in his legs for the first two days. However, you should consult your veterinarian if limb weakness persists after 2 months.
- The level of antibodies in the blood of the foal should ensure its resistance to disease by this time. It can be checked by a veterinarian within the first 18-24 hours after birth.
- The foal’s heart rate should equalize to 80-120 beats per minute.
- A heart murmur is sometimes heard for the first time two days of the foal’s life, but it should disappear before the fourth day.
- The temperature should be between 37.2 and 38.9 degrees. Temperatures higher or lower, even a few tenths of a degree, may indicate problems.
- Depression, weakness or milk residue on the foal’s face are symptoms of ill health. Consult your doctor.
- The foal may begin to show interest in the food its mother eats, tasting it.
- The foal will eat fresh manure (usually from its mother), which is called coprophagia. This behavior is very important for the baby’s health, as it allows him to populate his intestines with beneficial bacteria, which he will need when he can eat solid food.
- The foal will become more and more adventurous and independent of its mother.
- Most foals develop diarrhea 7-12 days after birth, as a natural response to changes in the baby’s gastrointestinal system as they grow older. Normally, the foal has watery-soft manure. The symptoms should disappear after a few days.
Signs of health problems. As you watch your foal, look for the following signs that may indicate a health problem:
- loss of appetite (full udder in the mother, milk residues on the foal’s face);
- labored breathing;
- fever (it is best to measure the temperature daily);
- tumors in the navel or genitals;
- pale mucous membranes;
- inability to swallow;
- sluggish reflexes;
- decreased urination, or urine leaking from the navel;
- diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days, or is profuse or bloody.
As we said, the health of a foal can change very quickly, so you should pay attention to these signs, especially in the first week of life. Often, by the time the owner notices them, the disease is already in full swing. If you think there is something wrong with your foal’s health, be sure to call your veterinarian. Most doctors prefer to be triggered on a false alarm, rather than in a critical condition of the patient, when their assistance may already be useless.