Chances are your foal will sail through the baby stage with flying colors, especially if it’s normal at birth and good management practices are in place at your farm. However, even under the best circumstances, it’s possible that your youngster could fall prey to one or more problems that can affect foals. How does a healthy newborn foal appear?
Healthy newborn foals should:
- Assume a sternal position (be able to sit up on his chest) within minutes of delivery.
- Breathe easily, slowing from an initial high of about 70 breaths per minute to 40 to 60 minutes within 15 minutes of birth.
- Have red or at least pink mucous membranes, indicating adequate oxygen is reaching the tissues.
- Display a strong suckle reflex within two to 20 minutes of birth.
- Appear alert and display an affinity for the dam.
- Be able to stand within two hours and nurse within three hours.
If your foal fails to meet these criteria, he may already be suffering from a serious condition and needs the prompt attention of a veterinarian. Good observation coupled with prompt action gives you the best opportunity to help your foal avoid a setback.
Make every effort to maximize the chances of your foal’s continued good health. These good management practices can make the difference between a healthy foal and a sick one:
- A well-ventilated, clean foaling environment.
- Good farm and stable hygiene and parasite control.
- Sound nutrition, current vaccinations and regular deworming of all equine residents.
- Plenty of fresh air and room to exercise for the foal as well as commencement of a regular vaccination and deworming program.
Our Foal Health Watch Guide describes signs of a variety of common ailments that can occur during the first 6 months of a foal’s life. In most cases, even if the problem is not life-threatening, you will still want your veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis and direct you in the most effective treatment. Please keep in mind this guide lists signs that are frequently observed with certain foal disorders, but not all foals display the same signs or to the same degree. A foal’s condition can deteriorate very rapidly, so don’t wait until your sick baby shows all the signs before acting and calling your veterinarian.
Foal Health Watch Guide
|FIRST SYMPTOM||OTHER SYMPTOMS||PROBABLE DIAGNOSIS||ACTIONS|
|Labored, suppressed or noisy breathing||Soreness, reluctance to move||Broken ribs due to severe compression from delivery||Stall rest, gentle handling|
|Reluctance to move or nurse, extended abdomen||Ruptured diaphragm, often due to birth trauma||Immediate corrective surgery|
|Yellow-stained amniotic fluid with delivery||Meconium-aspiration pneumonia||Antibiotics|
|Depression, coughing, intermittent fever||Foal pneumonia||Antibiotic treatment based on bacterial culture|
|Loose stools||Mild diarrhea at time of dam’s foal heat||Transient, “9-day scours”||Gently clean foal’s tail and buttocks with soapy water to prevent scalding of skin|
|Dehydration, scalding of skin on buttocks, matting of tail||Noninfectious diarrhea (from overeating, eating manure, etc.)||Fluids, decreased rations, clean tail and buttocks as above|
|Rapid dehydration, scalding, matting, fever, depression||Infectious diarrhea||Antibiotics, fluids, clean tail and buttocks regularly|
|Colicky||Colic after ingesting first milk, enema ineffective||Closed colon or rectum – development error causes gut to end in blind pouch||Surgery, success depends on length of missing part|
|Rolling, thrashing, lying on back, fecal matter not passed||Severe constipation, fecal mass too large or too far forward for enema to be successful||Laxatives, fluids|
|Lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, teeth grinding, lying on ground with feet in air||Ulcer||Confirm with endoscopy, treat with anti-ulcer medication|
|Profuse watery discharge from eyes||Blinking, avoidance of light, scratched cornea||Inversion of eyelid (entropion), dehydration, if uncorrected can lead to blindness||Fluids, lubricate eye and lids gently, pull out eyelid as often as necessary, surgery may be needed|
|Navel stump dripping urine||Wet, soiled, warm, swollen navel stump||“Leaky navel” (pervious urachus), umbilicus fails to close||Daily cauterization with silver nitrate or iodine, possible surgery|
|Straining||Tail switching, meconium (first feces) not passed||Simple constipation, meconium not passed||Enema, fluids|
|Distended abdomen, little or no urine produced, toxicity, fever, jaundiced membranes, progressive weakness||Ruptured bladder due to birth trauma or jerk on umbilical cord after delivery||Surgery to repair hole in bladder, drain urine from bladder, fluids|
|Low immunoglobulin (IgG) count||Less than 400 mg/dl||Failure of passive transfer, foal did not receive adequate colostrum or was unable to absorb IgG||Provide colostrum if foal less than 24 hours old, otherwise administer plasma IgG transfusion|
|Greater than 400 mg/dl, low risk environment||Partial failure of passive transfer||Foal probably adequately protected, but watch closely|
|Less than 800 mg/dl, high risk environment||Partial failure of passive transfer||Administer plasma IgG transfusion, monitor IgG level|
|Weakness, incoordination||Delivery between 300 and 320 days of gestation, low birthweight, little or no suckle strength, weak fetlocks and lax pasterns||Premature birth||Oxygen, humidity and temperature control, tube feeding, fluids|
|Intolerance to exercise||Congenital heart defect||Cardiovascular exam, surgery|
|Will not nurse, severe diarrhea, dehydration, subnormal temperature, bluish-white third eyelid||“Sleeper foal” caused by Actinobacillus equii bacteria||Antibiotics, fluids|
|Inflammation of umbilical vein, fever, depression||“Navel ill” (septicemia), systemic bloodstream infection||Antibiotics, fluids, intensive nursing care|
|Swollen joints||Lameness, fever, depression, joints are hot and painful||Joint ill (septic arthritis) or bone infection (osteomyelitis)||Antibiotics, surgical draining|
|Mare cannot nurse||Mare dies, does not allow foal to nurse, or is unable to provide milk (agalactiae)||Orphan or rejected foal, agalactic mare, early weaning||Supply colostrum is newborn, provide foal milk replacer or nurse mare|