Preparing for the arrival of a new foal is an exciting and daunting prospect for most owners. Fortunately mother nature takes her course and the majority of foalings occur with minimal or no complications, but owners can be prepared in a variety of ways to make sure everything runs smoothly.
To begin, owners can ensure proper care and nutrition of the mare during her pregnancy. This includes not only adequate food and exercise, but keeping current on vaccinations and deworming. Mares should be current on all vaccinations before breeding. During their pregnancy, mares should receive a Rhinopneumonitis vaccine (Pneumobort-K) at 5, 7, and 9 months, as well as boosters for EEE/WEE/tetanus/ influenza and west nile one month before their due date. Mares should also remain on a regular deworming schedule, receiving a deworming dose one month before their due date.
The mare should be familiar with and comfortable in the area where she is going to give birth. This foaling area should be clean and dry with plenty of room for the mare to lie down. Straw is the preferable to shavings for bedding but either is better than plain dirt.
Typically a mare will show certain signs that she is getting ready to give birth, but be prepared for surprises. The mare’s udder usually begins filling about 2-4 weeks prior to foaling, and some mares may develop swelling/edema along the midline. The teats will begin to become distended about 4-6 days before foaling. At around 1-4 days prior to foaling, the muscles of the croup and vulva relax and the teats will wax (small droplets of milk appear on the ends of the teats). Some mare may also drip milk. Special test strips are available that measure the electrolyte concentrations in the milk, typically the calcium levels will increase 24 hours before parturition.
There are some things that owners can do to prepare the mare when they think she is getting ready to give birth:
- keep the birthing area clean
- wash the mare’s vulva and teats with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly
- wrap the mare’s tail with a clean wrap when you witness the first stage of delivery.
There are three stages of labor in the mare:
- the beginning of the uterine contractions. This stage may last a variable amount of time, usually around 1-3 hours. The mare may act uncomfortable and get up, lie down or roll several times in order to position the foal properly. The fetal membranes may become visible at the vulva.
- begins with the rupture of the fetal membranes and is the actual giving birth of the foal. This stage should last no more than 20-30 minutes. The normal presentation of the foal begins with the front feet first, soles down, followed by the nose, head, neck and shoulders. If you suspect any change from this presentation, or after 10 minutes of strenuous labor there is no sign of the foal you should call your veterinarian. Also, if instead of the normal white/clear fetal membranes present the membranes are a dark red, this is considered a “red bag delivery”. The membranes are prematurely separating, disconnecting the foal from its oxygen supply. They need to be cut and the foal delivered as quickly as possible, and you should call your veterinarian immediately.
- expulsion of the placenta. This should take place 1-3 hours after delivery of the foal, the mare may become uncomfortable again and lie down to pass the placenta. If the mare does not pass the placenta the veterinarian should be called as a retained placenta can cause serious medical problems. After the mare has passed the placenta, it should be removed as soon as possible to prevent it being stepped on and placed in a safe place for later examination by a veterinarian. During the warmer months it is best to put it in a cool dark place, preferably in a bucket of water to decrease the “smell factor”.
After the birth monitor the mare for the next several days. She should eat, drink and pass manure normally. If she does not appear to be acting relatively normal (minus the fact she has a new baby!) or displays continued pain after passing the placenta you should contact you veterinarian as mares can occasionally become sick or colic after giving birth.
Most mares give birth with no complications, but with a little knowledge and preplanning an owner can be prepared to help their mare should any problems arise.