Foaling down is an anxious time for breeders every year so make sure your mare and foal get off to the best start by following these veterinary guidelines
The countdown to foaling typically begins two to four weeks prior to foaling, when the mare's udder begins to fill with milk. Next, the vulva relaxes and the tail head becomes more prominent.
"Waxing" of the teats occurs, in which a yellowish, honey secretion (colostrum) appears between one and four days prior to foaling.
As the foaling process begins, the mare becomes anxious and restless. She may frequently raise her tail and urinate. Be aware, however, that colic remains a possibility.
If such behaviour is prolonged for more than an hour or two without progress towards foaling, contact your veterinary surgeon.
It is usually best to allow the mare to foal undisturbed and unassisted. However, there are a number of things that an owner can do in advance to help avoid problems.
Approximately one week prior to foaling ensure that your mare does not remain "stitched" – had a Caslicks procedure carried out at the time of covering.
Ensure that the mare has up- to-date tetanus vaccinations.
Wrap your mare's tail with a clean wrap when you observe the first stage of foaling.
Wash the mare's udder, vulva and hindquarters with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly.
In equine practice, a foaling mare is always a genuine emergency. The force of a mare's contractions can convert a minor malpresentation into a major crisis in a very short time.
Labour and delivery
Labour is divided into three stages:
nStage one begins with the onset of contractions and generally lasts 1-2 hours. The foetal membranes (allantois) may become visible at the mare's vulva. When this sac breaks, signalled by a rush of fluid, stage one ends.
At this stage, the appearance of a red membrane indicates premature separation of placental membranes and is a genuine emergency so call your vet immediately.
nStage two is the actual expulsion of the foal. If it takes more than 30 minutes for the mare to deliver, there could be a problem.
If there is no significant progress within 10-15 minutes after the membrane ruptures, call your vet immediately. If labour seems to be progressing, wait and watch.
Normal presentation of the foal resembles a diving position, with front feet first, one slightly ahead of the other, hooves down, followed closely by the nose, head, shoulders and hindquarters.
If you suspect any deviation from a normal foaling delivery position call your vet immediately.
nStage three is the passing of the afterbirth. Most placentas are passed within 1-3 hours after the foal is delivered.
If the placenta has not passed within three hours call your vet as a retained placenta can cause serious problems including overwhelming infection and laminitis.
Ensure the foal breaks the foetal membranes or remove if covering head or nostrils. Allow the foal to lie. Generally, it is not recommended to cut or break the umbilical cord. If it has not broken during delivery, it will usually break when the mare or foal gets up.
If it is necessary to manually separate the cord, it should be held firmly on either side of the intended break site, then twist and pull to separate.
If bleeding persists following the separation, apply forceps or a clamp.
Give the mare and foal the opportunity to bond undisturbed. Treat the umbilical cord with tincture of iodine. Repeat this treatment on a number of occasions.
IMPORTANCE OF OBSERVATION
Following the birth of the foal, the mare and foal should be monitored to ensure the following:
nThe foal is breathing normally.
nThe foal is bright and alert to its new surroundings.
nThe foal should make attempts to rise within 30 minutes of birth.
nThe mare is accepting of her newborn foal. Occasionally a mare will reject her foal. In such a case, the foal should be removed and reintroduced with the mare under restraint. Foal rejection is more common in mares foaling down for the first time.
nThe foal should stand and nurse within two hours of birth.
If the foal has not nursed within three hours, the foal may be weak and need assistance or veterinary attention before it becomes too weak.
nThe foal should pass the meconium – the first sticky, dark stool – within 12 hours after birth. If not, an enema may be needed.
nThe mare should be bright and alert. Allow her to eat as soon as she is ready and supply plenty of water.
nOnce the placenta is passed, examine it to make sure it is intact, particularly at the tips of the horns. The afterbirth will be Y-shaped and should only have a hole through which the foal emerged. If you suspect that the mare has retained part of the placenta, call your veterinary surgeon to examine it and the mare.
nYou may wish to check the mare's temperature and other vital signs within the first 24 hours of foaling. An elevated temperature may indicate infection (the normal range is 99.5-101.5°F)
There are a number of complications at foaling involving the foal and the mare that will require veterinary attention if present.
nRetained meconium is more common in colt foals and routine use of enemas is commonly practised.
nInhalation of fluid at foaling. Always ensure airways are cleared of mucus.
nFracture of ribs (care should be taken in handling newborn foals so that a cracked rib is not aggravated further, causing a lung puncture).
n'Dummy Syndrome': Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome is caused by oxygen deprivation during the birthing process. Signs varying from a quiet, sleeping foal to extreme excitation, with a failure to suck. This may require intensive care involving intravenous fluids, medication and monitoring.
nSepticemia/infection: can develop pre-birth, at foaling or if there is inadequate colostrum intake in the first six hours of life.
nInfected navel occurs within a few days of birth if hygiene is poor or if not adequately treated with repeated dressings of antiseptic solution.
nJoint ill occurs when an infection enters through an infected navel or secondary to other infections such as diarrhoea or pneumonia. If a foal shows signs of lameness in the first 10 days of life always check for joint infection.
nRetained afterbirth, particularly if it is retained for more than six hours, can cause serious problems including overwhelming infection and laminitis. (see below)
nHaemorrhage after foaling or rupture of the uterine artery (more common in older mares).
nTearing of the vulva. This is most commonly caused by failure to check if the mare has been stitched after covering by the stallion.
nDamage to the cervix. This can only be detected by veterinary examination and is most commonly diagnosed on examination prior to being put back in foal.
nLaminitis can occur as a secondary problem to uterine infection.
nLack of milk or poor quality/volume of colostrum.
nUterine rupture. This is a rare but potentially fatal condition.
More information and related articles are available on the Ballybrown Equine Clinic website, www.horsevet.ie