Tuesdays with Tony
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday weekend. I spent my weekend napping and recuperating from all my weekday napping. It’s a tough life, but somebody’s gotta do it. Anyway. Last week we talked about breeding your mare. This week I want to talk about the main event: foaling and foals.
Everyone loves foals! And what’s not to love? They’re absolutely adorable. Their disproportionate ears, long wobbly legs, fuzzy little tails, and tiny little feet make them almost irresistible. However, foals will break your heart in a split second. I’ve seen it firsthand. The act of foaling out is very dangerous and can be life-threatening for both the mare and foal. Luckily, most of the time foaling occurs without issue, but it’s important to be prepared for those rare times when foaling does not go as planned.
Dystocia is an all-encompassing word for difficult birth. A dystocia can be life-threatening to both the mare and foal. Typically, a dystocia involves the foal being positioned inappropriately, therefore making it impossible for the mare to pass the foal through the pelvic canal. Once the mare’s water breaks the foal should be expelled within 30 minutes, 45 minutes max, before the life of the foal is at risk. If the foal is positioned incorrectly, it can put stress on the mare, leading to tearing and bleeding.
Your veterinarian will be able to assess your mare and foal to determine the severity of the dystocia. Sometimes it’s possible for your veterinarian to manipulate the foal into the correct position allowing for a normal birth to occur. However, if they can’t do that, sending the mare to a referral hospital may be necessary. When this decision is made, it’s extremely emergent and both the life of the mare and foal are in jeopardy. If you think about it, by the time the mare’s water breaks, you realized there is a problem, your veterinarian comes out, and the decision is made to refer, a big chunk of time has already passed. That’s why it’s always best to be prepared ahead of time, have a plan set up, and potentially even bring your mare to a facility to foal out where there is a veterinarian on staff should a problem arise.
Once at the referral hospital, there’s a possibility of your mare needing a cesarian section. A C-section involves general anesthesia which can be dangerous for the mare and foal. It has to be completed quickly and efficiently. Even if everything goes perfectly, it’s possible that the life of the mare or foal could be lost. Dystocias can be very complicated and very dangerous, so be sure to talk with your veterinarian about the best plan for foaling out your mare.
The term “red bag” is well-known and heard throughout barns. But do you really know what it means to have a red bag birth? I did some research and found out that a red bag occurs when there is premature separation of the outer placental membrane from uterine wall. When this happens, the intact fluid-filled chorioallantois protrudes through the vulva. The chorioallantois is red in color and is what gives the term “red bag” its name.
Again, we all know that a red bag birth is bad, but why is it bad? Well, when the outer placental membrane detaches from the uterine wall before it is supposed to, there’s a rapid decrease in oxygen being transported to the foal. Thus, the foal can suffer from lack of oxygen and could even suffocate.
When a foal does not obtain enough oxygen during the delivery process, they can be born a “dummy foal.” Dummy foals can exhibit abnormal behaviors after birth, including sleepiness, ataxia, circling, weakness, loss of a suckle reflex, and disinterest in the mare. As you can imagine a foal who is not interested in the mare and does not suckle is a foal who is in danger. Dehydration, weakness, and illness can set in very quickly.
Your veterinarian may elect to perform the Madigan Squeeze on your foal if he is showing signs of dummy foal syndrome. This squeeze resets the foal’s neurologic system and often can alleviate the symptoms associated with dummy foal syndrome. However, if the foal does not respond to the Madigan Squeeze, hospitalization and intensive care may be necessary.
The good news about a red bag is, if you recognize it early, you can reduce the risks by sharply opening the placental membrane. This will allow the allantoic fluid to be expelled and the foal will be able to breath the ambient air. That being said, it would still be in the foal’s best interest to receive supplemental oxygen post-foaling.
It is highly recommended to have your veterinarian on the way if you notice any complications during the foaling process. And as I already said, it may be in your best interests, and the best interest of your mare and foal to have your mare at a facility to foal out where there is a veterinarian available immediately.
We’ve made it through the foaling without complication, so now you may be thinking, Whew, now I can finally enjoy my new bundle of joy! And you can and should, but there are post-foaling complications that you should look for.
Immediately post-foaling is the 1-2-3 Rule: your foal should stand within 1 hour, should be nursing by 2 hours, and 3 hours post foaling the mare should pass the placental in full. A foal who does not stand, will not nurse. A foal that does not nurse will become weak and dehydrated quickly. And a mare with a retained placenta can become extremely ill, become laminitic, and can end up not being able to care for their foal appropriately. If any of these milestones do not occur, you will need to call in your veterinarian for assistance.
Post-foaling complications don’t always have to be life threatening. Complications such as contracted tendons or laxed tendons occur frequently. While these complications may not be life threatening, they can be career ending before your foal’s career even begins. It can affect their conformation and put them at risk for tendon and ligament problems in the future as well as hoof problems as they develop. And we all know the saying, no hoof, no horse. If you suspect you foal has a problem with his tendons, be sure to call your veterinarian as soon as possible, as time is of the essence to get the problem corrected.
Finally, foals are extremely accident prone. They are curious and excitable, which can lead them to finding themselves in precarious positions. Ensuring that the environment for your foal is safe is essential to avoiding accidents and injuries.
Now, buckle up, because foaling season is right around the corner! Get with your veterinarian to come up with the best plan for you and your horse and let the foaling begin!
Until next week,
P.S. If you want more foaling information, you should go over to my Podcast Page and listen to my docs talk about this stuff. They have 3 or 4 different episodes about it, and one of them is an interview with a Board-Certified Internist who deals with new foals, so she has all kinds of great info to share on the subject. Go ahead and check it out, it’s free and painless!
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!