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Raising a Healthy Foal with Proper Care and Observation

The chances are in good favor that your foal will not have any problems during its baby stage – especially if it was normal when it was born, and if your farm has good and clean management practices. But, its important to know that even when the best circumstances have happened, it is always possible that a young horse could fall victim to one of many problems that can drastically affect foals.
The best way for you to stay on top of your foal’s health is to observe him fully and regularly. This is going to provide your foal with the best chance of reaching adulthood without any problems. Reading and sticking to the Foal Health-Watch Guide is a good way to be aware of common ailments that might happen during these first six months. Remember that even if the problem you have found is not threatening to the life of your foal, you are still going to want to have the diagnoses and treatment confirmed by your vet.
The signs listed below are observed most of the time with certain disorders, but remember that not all foals are going to display the same symptoms, so watch your foal carefully, and know him well. Remember that when it comes to a young horse, his condition will deteriorate quite quickly, so take action at the first signs of sickness.

If your foal is completely healthy, remember the following:

He should get into the sternal position, which is sitting up on his hocks and elbows, right away – within minutes. He should be breathing easily; the height of his breath should slow from 70 breaths per minutes to about 40 within the first 15 minutes of his life. His mucous membranes should be red or at the very least, pink, which will tell you he is getting enough oxygen. His suckle reflex should be displayed within the first 20 minutes of his life. He should be alert, and should show an affinity for the mother. Within two hours, he should stand, and within three hours, he should be nursing.

These are all things that your foal needs to do, and if he doesn’t meet these things, there might already be a problem that needs to be attended to by a vet.

Here are the symptoms and diagnosis that are contained in the Foal Watch-Guide.

  1. Labored or suppressed breathing, followed by soreness or not wanting to move. This is probably broken ribs that have occurred because of sever compression during delivery. He should rest in the stall, and you should handle him gently.
  2. Reluctance to move or to nurse and an extended abdomen probably means that he has a ruptured diaphragm during his delivery. He needs surgery right away to correct this.
  3. He has yellow-stained amniotic fluid, which means that he has Meconium-Aspiration pneumonia. He needs antibiotics right away.
  4. An appearance of loose stools, followed by depression, coughing or fever might indicate foal pneumonia. The treatment for this is antibiotic treatment based on a bacterial culture.
  5. A mild diarrhea that occurs at the time of the foal heat of the dam might indicate 9-day scours. You should clean the foal’s tail and buttocks with soapy water, which sill prevent scalding of skin.
  6. Dehydration, scalding of skin on his buttocks, and matting of his tail all indicate no infection diarrhea. You should give him fluids, decrease his rations, and clean his tail and buttocks.
  7. If he is colicky, followed by rapidly dehydration, scalding, depression, fever, and matting, he has infections diarrhea. You should give him antibiotics and fluids, as well as cleaning his tail and buttocks regularly.
  8. If he has colic after his first milk, and an enema is ineffective, he might have a closed colon or rectum. The only way to deal with this is surgery, and the success is going to depend on how much is closed or missing.
  9. If he is rolling or thrashing, lying on his back, and not passing fecal matter, he is probably severely constipated. The fecal matter might be too large for him to pass. The way to treat this is with laxatives and fluids.
  10. If he has profuse water that is discharging from his eyes, followed by lethargy, diarrhea, appetite loss, teeth grinding or laying on the ground with his feet in the hair, he might have an ulcer. This should be confirmed with an endoscope, and treated with medication.
  11. If his navel stump is dripping urine, and this is followed by blinking of the eyes or avoidance of light, or a scratched cornea, he might have an inversion of the eyelid. This can lead to blindness if it isn’t corrected, so you need to treat it with fluids, a lubrication of the eye and lids, and perhaps surgery.
  12. If he is straining, and has a wet, warm, soiled or swollen navel stump, he might have a leaky navel, which means the umbilicus has not closed. He needs daily cauterization with iodine or silver nitrate, and might also need surgery.
  13. Tail switching and his fist feces not passed might mean simple constipation. The treatment for this is enema and fluids.
  14. If his immunoglobulin count is low, and he has a distended abdomen, hasn’t produce much urine, has a fever, toxicity, weakness or jaundiced membranes, he might have had a ruptured bladder that happened during birth trauma. He will need surgery to repair this and treatments to drain the urine from the bladder.
  15. If he has less than 400 mg/dl, he has a failure of passive transfer. This means that he didn’t get the right colustrum or was not able to absorb IgG. If he is less than 24 hours old, you can provide him with colostrums. Otherwise, you’ll need to give him a plasma IgG transfusion.
  16. If he has a greater than 300 mg/dl, and a low risk environment, he might have had a partial failure of the transfer. He is probably going to be fine, but you should watch him.
  17. If he has weakness or is not coordinated, and has less than 800 mg/dl and a high risk environment, he has a partial failure of passive transfer. You should give him a plasma IgG transfusion, and monitor his IgG level.
  18. If he was delivered between 300 and 320 days of gestation, and has a low birth weight, does not suck, has weak fetlocks and has lax pasterns, he was born prematurely. He will need oxygen, humidity and control of temperature, feeding by a tube, and fluids.
  19. If he has intolerance to exercise, he might have a congenital heart defect. He will need to have a cardiovascular exam, and surgery.
  20. If he will not nurse, is very dehydrated, has diarrhea, a subnormal temperature and a bluish-white third eyelid, he might have “sleeper foal”, which is caused by actinobacillus equi bacteria. He needs antibiotics and fluids.
  21. If he has swollen joints, which is followed by an inflammation of the umbilical vein, depression or fever, he might have “Navel ill”, which is an infection of the bloodstream. He will need antibiotics, fluids, and intensive care for nursing.
  22. If the mare cannot nurse, and it is followed by a lameness, a fever, depression, or painful and hot joints, it might be Join Ill. This is a bone infection, and the treatment is antibiotics and surgical draining.
  23. If the mare dies or the foal is not allowed to nurse, of if she doesn’t provide milk, this is an orphan or rejected foal, an agalactic mare, or an early weaning. You will need to supply colostrums in the newborn, as well as foal milk replacement, or a nurse mare.

Read the next horse breeding article on Feeding Your Broadmare.
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