A Frightening Start
Initially, the chestnut shetland filly seemed healthy and was nursing regularly. Over the course of her first 24 hours of life, however, she became increasingly lethargic and her nursing diminished. This was when her owner called for Carolina Equine Hospital to intervene.
When we arrived, the filly’s blood sugar was very low as a result of her decreased appetite. After placing an IV and a feeding tube, the team was able to raise her blood sugar. Her antibody levels were also tested, and we discovered that she had acquired little to no immunity from her dam through ingestion of colostrum. Colostrum is the mare’s first milk, which is typically yellowish in color and has a creamy consistency. To combat this, she received a plasma transfusion. Plasma is a horse-blood product that contains the antibodies the foal would have otherwise consumed through the dam’s milk.
What We Discovered
As it turns out, the mare was not making milk at all, nor had she made colostrum (as evidenced by the foal’s lack of blood antibodies). Mare’s milk appears similar in color & consistency to cow’s milk, and the foal’s dam had clear, thick, and sticky secretions from her udder. This was not providing the foal with adequate nutrition, leading to the symptoms she was experiencing when she was admitted to the hospital.
To improve the quality of the mare’s udder secretions, the team began giving her a medication called domperidone, which acts in the brain to reverse the side effects of *fescue toxicity and encourage milk production. To give the mare time to produce higher volume and higher quality of milk, the CEH team continued to supplement the foal with mare’s milk replacer through the feeding tube and, once she learned how, from a pan. Within a few days, the filly’s dam was producing sufficient milk for the foal, and the feeding tube was removed.
Love and Her Filly Today
Love and her filly have since gone back home to enjoy spending lots of time outside together in the pasture. The filly is growing like a weed and loves attention!
*Fescue is a type of grass that is commonly used to seed horse pastures in North Carolina. Fescue is also harvested and fed as grass hay to horses in our area. There is an endophyte fungus that grows on fescue. This fungus survives the drying process, so it lives on both the pasture and the hay, where it produces a toxin to which our patients may be susceptible. Non-pregnant horses can consume this endophyte-infested pasture or hay without issue. Pregnant mares may also consume it for the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Their access to this pasture or hay, however, must be removed at least 1 month prior to their due date. If they do consume the endophyte up to their due date, they may experience pregnancy complications such as prolonged gestation (pregnancy well past the original due date) and dysmaturity of the foal; premature separation of the placenta from the womb during delivery, also known as a “red bag” delivery, which is fatal to the fetus if not detected immediately; or agalactia, which is a lack of milk production by the mare in a time when she should be producing milk for the foal to drink, such as Love and her foal experienced.