Caring for the newborn foal
It is important to recognise normal behaviour in your foal so that you can identify problems early on and call us if you have any concerns.
A healthy foal should:
- be sitting up on its sternum within a couple of minutes of birth
- attempt to stand within 30 minutes and should be standing in under 2 hours
- feed effectively in under 3 hours
- have passed meconium (the first faeces) within 8-12 hours
Colostrum provides antibodies to fight infection as well as providing nutrition for the newborn foal. The ability to absorb antibodies decreases during the first day of life so it is important to get a good feed of good quality colostrum as soon as possible. If the foal is slow to stand, or the mare has been dripping milk before foaling, provide an alternative colostrum source (i.e. colostrum from another mare, or powdered colostrum).
If you are worried about the quality of your mare's colostrum (e.g. if she has been running milk before foaling) we can check it for you. If there is any doubt as to whether the foal drank enough colostrum, bloods can be taken to check antibody levels from 24 hours onwards. If the antibody levels are low, a plasma transfusion may be necessary in some cases.
The foal's navel should be dipped or sprayed with a 0.5% solution of chlorhexidine every 6 hours for the first 24 hours. Iodine solutions can be used but should not be too strong or they may cause burning. Iodine solution should be the colour of weak tea.
If the mare has not been vaccinated with tetanus toxoid in the 4-6 weeks prior to foaling, the foal will need a tetanus antitoxin.
Sometimes foals are born with "contracted tendons" and will not be able to fully straighten their legs. It may be necessary to help these foals to stand and suckle. Please call Totally Vets as soon as possible to arrange treatment.
Angular limb deformities are relatively common and most will correct with time and careful management if treated early. Contact Totally Vets to discuss the best course of action for your foal.
The most common eye problem is entropion, where the eyelids roll in towards the eye. This may be present at birth or may develop secondary to dehydration. If you notice a weepy eye, call Totally Vets as soon as possible before the eyelashes damage the surface of the eye.
Colt foals are particularly susceptible to retained meconium. It is normal to see some straining while the foal attempts to pass the meconium, but if this is prolonged or if the foal shows any other colic signs (rolling, not suckling, running backwards) then it may need further investigation and treatment.
Sick foals can go downhill very quickly, and early intervention is the answer if you have any worries at all. A false alarm is better than a dead foal, so call us with any concerns.