The birth of a foal is an exciting time for an owner, and there are a few guidelines to assist with caring for the new arrival.
After the birth it is important to allow the mare and foal time to rest and bond with minimal interference. If the foal has not broken the membranes soon after being born the owner may tear them and check to make sure the foal is breathing. It is generally not recommended for the owner to cut or break the umbilical cord as it will usually break on its own about one inch from the foal’s abdomen. In the rare occurrence that the cord does not break you can break it by twisting and pulling which will decrease the possibility of excessive bleeding. The umbilicus should be dipped in a dilute (50%) nolvasan or betadine solution soon after birth and every 6 hours thereafter for the first 24 hours. This will help prevent any infection of the umbilicus.
The foal should appear bright and alert soon after birth. It should make attempts to stand within 30 minutes, is usually on its feet by one hour, and nursing by 2 hours after being born. If the foal has not nursed by 4 hours after birth it may need assistance and a call should be made to the veterinarian.
The meconium (the first dark sticky stool) should be passed within a few hours after birth. Occasionally an enema may be given to assist with passage of the meconium, but it is important to be very gentle when administering so as not to damage the tissues. After the meconium is passed, the foal’s manure will become light brown and pasty, this is called milk feces. If the foal does not pass the meconium it may be stuck and form an impaction. The foal may show signs of mild discomfort such as restlessness, straining, holding the tail elevated, or of colic, such as rolling and getting up and down. If a meconium impaction is suspected a call should be made to the veterinarian.
The foal should urinate around 8-10 hours after birth. It is important for the owner to witness the foal urinating to make sure there are no problems such as a patent urachus (where the foal urinates out of its umbilicus), or uncommonly a ruptured bladder, in which the foal may not be able to urinate at all.
The foal’s first nursings are the most important of its life. The mare’s initial milk is called colostrum. It is rich in antibodies that give the foal immunity until its own immune system can kick in. The foal can only absorb these antibodies for the first 18 hours after birth, after that the intestinal tract will no longer absorb the antibodies to become a part of the immune system. If a foal is weak or unable to nurse it may be necessary to milk the mare and feed the foal either with a bottle or through a stomach tube. Blood can be drawn from the foal and tested by 12 hours of age to measure the IgG antibody levels in the blood. If the IgG levels are too low the foal may need to be given extra colostrum or intravenous plasma.
In summary here is a checklist of things to do for your new foal:
- Dip the umbilicus in a dilute nolvasan or betadine solution after birth and then every 6 hours for the first day
- Monitor the time it takes for the foal to stand and nurse, it should have had its first drink of milk by 4 hours after birth
- Make sure the foal has passed the meconium
- Make sure the foal is urinating normally
- Have blood drawn to check the IgG antibody levels
In general it is advisable to have a veterinarian do a post partum exam on both the mare and foal. The veterinarian can check for any abnormalities, draw blood on the foal, and answer any questions you may have about your new arrival.