Farm Ireland

Sunday 24 March 2019

'Mares can be very unforgiving if something goes wrong'

Top vet on managing foaling mares

Equine vet Sarah O'Dwyer
Equine vet Sarah O'Dwyer

"Make a plan when preparing to foal your mare," advises Sarah O'Dwyer. "It is important as an owner to pre-empt any problems, especially if she has had them before or is perhaps a maiden. It's all about knowing your mare.

"Most can foal on their own without complications, but unlike cattle and sheep, they are very unforgiving if something goes wrong. You have such a small window of time to correct it. It is always advisable to have a vet on standby."

Sarah's interest is always the mare and foal, but sometimes it is difficult, especially when it comes to performing a caesarean. "We have to ask an owner how much they are willing to spend, and if the mare is worth it."

Caesareans are carried out in the case of dystocia, or difficult foaling.

In the case of a 'dog-sitter', this involves having the front feet and nose coming first, followed by a back foot. The survival rate of these foals is poor.

Most mares that undergo caesareans can breed again, provided they are left to recover for one full breeding season.

Sarah has also seen a lot of cases of 'dummy' foals so far this year. They are thought to result from a lack of oxygen or nutrients reaching the brain before, during or after birth.

"Sometimes a 'dummy foal' can be diagnosed early if the mare is 'bagging up' early or has a discharge. This can show us that the foetus is under pressure."

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Foals are likely to survive, but this depends on a number of factors and providing they do not get septicaemia or a joint infection.

In the case of 'red bag' foals their survival rate also depends on how quickly the case is referred to a vet. This occurs when the placenta has prematurely detached from the uterus and the unborn foal is deprived of oxygen.

As the spring progresses, some owners choose to foal their mares outside and again Sarah says this is fine once you have a plan in place.

"The first few hours are critical and you need to know when things are not right. Foals can be fine one hour, but can crash the next, especially in bad weather. Waiting, in the hope of saving money, doesn't usually work."

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