The new foal has arrived, but owners still have an important role to play to ensure the mare and newborn stay healthy. Observe the mare and foal closely for the first 24 hours after birth. Look for the following, and pay special attention to nursing:
It is essential that the foal receive an adequate supply of colostrum. Colostrum, the mare’s first milk, is extremely rich in antibodies. It provides the foal with passive immunity to help prevent disease until its own immune system kicks in.
A foal must receive colostrum within the first eight to 12 hours of life in order to absorb the antibodies. If a foal is too weak to nurse, it may be necessary to milk the mare and give the colostrum to the foal via a stomach tube.
If a mare appears to be leaking an excessive amount of milk prior to birth, consult your veterinarian. This pre-foaling milk is not typically colostrum-rich. However, depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation, the mare may be milked and the colostrum frozen to give to the foal shortly after birth.
For orphan foals, or mares without an adequate supply of colostrum, it is important to locate a backup supply. Without it, the foal is at an increased risk of infections.
Your veterinarian can test the colostrum to determine whether it is rich in antibodies. Also, the foal’s serum can be tested at 18 to 24 hours of age to evaluate IgG antibody levels. The majority of absorption (85 percent) takes place within the first six to eight hours. The foal can be tested when it is eight hours old, and if IgG is deficient, it can be supplemented. If you wait until the foal is 24 hours old to evaluate IgG absorption and it proves to be inadequate, your only option will be a plasma transfusion. If IgG is inadequate, treatment for Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT) should be instituted by your veterinarian.
If you notice any problems in the first 24 hours after birth, especially issues with nursing within the first 3 hours, call your veterinarian. It is better to have the foal or mare checked early, before any possible issues become complicated.
Carolina Equine Hospital provides a full range of reproductive, foaling, and postpartum care services. Call us at 336-349-4080, 24 hours a day, to request a veterinarian visit.