When you are expecting a foal it is important to know the signs of a normal healthy foal and a sick foal. Being able to quickly identify that a foal is unwell and treating it correctly can be the difference between life and death.
If possible the delivery of the foal should be watched to ensure that all goes smoothly. Ideally the foal will be born within a normal gestational range of 330-360 days. The labour and delivery should be uneventful with an active labour period lasting around 20 minutes. A healthy foal will have a heart rate of 80-120 beats per minute and respiratory rate of 30-40 breaths per minute. A foal should become instinctively attached and looking for their mother. They should be able to stand within 1-2 hours and be able to nurse from the mare within 2-3 hours. The foal should pass the meconium within 4 hours and urinate within 8 hours.
Foals should be closely watched and monitored over the first few days of life, even if they have appeared normal at birth. Some signs to watch for include;
- changes in behaviour including lethargy, depression, not feeding, increased periods of sleeping.
- distended or swollen stomach
- failure to urinate within first eight hours
- failure to pass meconium and/or straining or in pain when trying to defecate
- joint swelling
- high temperature
- jaundice ie. yellow colouration to eyes and/or gums
- swelling or discharge from the navel stump
During the first few days and months of a foal’s life good health management and practices are essential. These first few months can determine the future growth, development and health of the horse.
If you ever have any concerns about the health of your foal always contact a veterinarian immediately to discuss. The health of a foal can deteriorate very rapidly if not correctly managed.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Spring 2015.
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