You’ve waited 11 months for this day, your mare has finally given birth to her foal, and before your eyes is the new baby you have been dreaming about. Every owner and breeder hopes for a quiet, easy birth without the need for intervention, but sadly, as many as 7% of newborn foals experience a health issue requiring veterinary care.
As a breeder, it is important to know what to look for in the newborn foal, what is considered normal and when should you call for help?
Over the past few decades, neonatal medicine in both the human and equine fields have improved in leaps and bounds. Advances in human pediatric medicine have helped improve care in the equine field through sharing of experiences and technology. Since the first Equine Neonatal Intensive Care Unit opened in the US, at the University of Florida in 1982, more and more equine neonatal specialty facilities have opened throughout the states.
Sick foals are amongst the most challenging patients that a veterinarian may treat. New to the world, their immune systems are weak and their energy reserves are minimal, leaving them vulnerable to hypoglycemia, hypothermia, and organ dysfunction. An unwell foal can decline rapidly: aggressive early intervention is key to the foal’s survival. Thanks to improvements in medical technology, such as intravenous fluid therapy and nutritional support, medications, milk feeding via nasogastric tube, and prevention of sepsis with antimicrobials, (techniques devised in the NICU-neonatal intensive care unit-and applied in the field,) survival rates of sick newborns are increasing dramatically.
The neonatal period is the most vulnerable time in the life of a horse. Foals are extremely susceptible to disease, lacking the resilience of adult horses. A few hours can make the difference between life and death. Vigilant monitoring is absolutely vital in the first few days of the foal’s life, as a foal can appear robustly healthy at birth but become seriously ill within a few hours.
Some of the conditions that can lead to the newborn becoming ill can include:
Most of these conditions can be identified by your veterinarian on examination and many will show minor symptoms which will quickly develop to a more life threatening state. But what are the signs you should be looking out for in order to ensure intervention at the earliest possible stage?
Consulting your veterinarian on the first signs of any illness can help improve survival rates, so what are these signs?
Unlike your adult horse, you will not know what is normal for your foal. It is always preferable to err on the side of caution. Should you notice any worrying signs in the foal, you should call your veterinarian for advice immediately. It is better to be safe than sorry.
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