After your mare has foaled, it is important to observe the mare and foal closely but not interfere unless absolutely necessary. The foal should start to sit sternal (upright) within minutes and have a suck reflex usually within 10 minutes of being born. Most foals will be standing in 30 to 60 minutes and definitely within 2 hours of birth and will commence seeking for the udder. At this point, some gentle steering in the right direction might help the foal. Some mares (particularly new mums) may need some restraint while the foal is udder seeking. This may be just holding the mare or may involve attention from your veterinarian. If your foal is not suckling within 4 hours, veterinary advice should be sought as they will start to run out of energy and the best time for colostrum absorption is in the first 12 hours. The umbilicus should be treated with 0.5% chlorhexidine or sprayed with antibiotic spray.
Usually within 1 hour and certainly by 3 to 4 hours following birth, the mare will pass the placenta. You should keep this for your vet to examine as it is a good indicator of possible problems that might need attention. The first droppings (meconium) are usually passed within 6 hours of foaling; these are usually a very dark green to black colour and very hard. Failure to pass the meconium is the most common cause of colic in new born foals so veterinary advice should be sought if this is not observed. Most foals will urinate within 8 hours and noting the colour and that no urine runs from the umbilicus is important information for your vet.
If everything seems to have gone according to plan the best time for a veterinary surgeon to check the mare and foal are healthy is 12 to 18 hours after foaling. However, if the mare has not passed her placenta in 3 to 4 hours or if the foal has not completed any of the above steps in the times specified veterinary advice should be sought sooner.
The vet will give both your mare and foal a thorough check over and examine the placenta to identify any signs of problems that might need attention. They will be able to advise you on any congenital problems such as limb deviations and hernias and what level of turn out the mare and foal should receive. A blood sample is usually collected at this point to measure IgG level. This is a way of checking that the foal has received enough, and good quality, colostrum. If the levels are not adequate, treatments can be instituted to try and prevent your foal from becoming ill. To assist in the prevention of tetanus, foals are given tetanus anti-toxin which gives the foal immediate short term protection. This is not the full tetanus vaccine as the foal cannot start the normal vaccination course until 5 to 6 months of age therefore if the foal injures itself before starting these vaccinations, veterinary advice should be sought as they may require another tetanus anti-toxin injection.
Your mare and foal should be examined at least twice daily for signs of being off colour, off their food, colic, or for having a temperature. Paying close attention to the mare will provide you with warning signs that the foal has reduced the amount it is suckling, (her udder will fill and look larger than normal, she may run milk and have dried milk on her legs and the foal may have dried milk on its head). Quietly watching the foal for a few minutes will enable you to see its breathing rate, behaviour, alertness and if it is suckling properly. If you have assistance and are able to, taking the foal's temperature can assist your veterinarian greatly in giving you advice on whether your foal needs an immediate visit or not.
Lameness is also a cause for concern in a foal. While it is easy to think that the mare may have stood on the foal this is quite uncommon and much more serious issues such as an infected joint (septic arthritis) is often the cause. Septic arthritis is usually due to bacteria in the bloodstream of the foal infecting the joint. Left untreated, even if only for 24 to 48 hours, it can rapidly lead to irreparable damage to the joint cartilage and permanent consequences for soundness. Therefore, if your foal becomes lame it is wise to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible as early identification and treatment of septic arthritis can prevent permanent damage occurring.
Worming is usually started at one month of age with an ivomectin based wormer and continued at monthly intervals until 6 months of age. At 6 months the foal should be wormed with an all-wormer including tapeworm. All horse wormers are safe for foals of this age.
The foal’s influenza and tetanus vaccination protocol is usually started at 5 to 6 months of age.
In summary, when in doubt call the Sussex Equine Hospital to speak to one of our dedicated stud vets for advice. Early identification and treatment of a problem can often prevent serious illness in your foal.