Managing the newborn foal
WE are in the midst of foaling season, and although awaiting the birth of your foal brings much excitement and anticipation, it can also be a very stressful experience. The first 24 hours are critical for foal survival, and therefore it is important to be aware of the normal developmental stages and when to intervene. Failure of passive transfer is one of the most common disorders in foals, greatly increasing the risk of neonatal infection. The mare’s placenta provides no transfer of immunity, and therefore ingestion of colostrum (the first milk) is critical in the early stages to ensure adequate antibody intake. The foal is capable of absorbing antibodies via specialised cells within the intestine, however as these cells become replaced by mature cells, absorption decreases, and ceases within 24-36 hours post birth. After this stage, if the foal has not received adequate antibodies via colostrum, a plasma transfusion may be required. Signs of inadequate transfer of immunity may include weakness, increased laying around, failure to suckle and rapid breathing. If failure of passive transfer is suspected in your foal, a blood test can be performed to assess their antibody levels. Other issues we may find in our neonatal foals include limb deformities, urine dribbling from the naval (associated with urine accumulation in the abdomen rather than the bladder) and meconium impaction (failure to pass first faeces). Ideally, a healthy newborn foal should be standing within the hour, urinating within the first 8-12 hours and starting to pass meconium within 30 minutes. If you are concerned about any of the above conditions, do not hesitate to contact your vet.