As you await the arrival of your new foals this season, here is a refresher course to ensure a healthy beginning. Many of these tips are for review and some are new.
1) Your new foal should stand within two hours of birth, and nurse within 3 hours of birth. The mare’s first post foaling milk, called colostrum, is rich in immune factors that the foal ingests and absorbs through its intestinal cells. This capacity to absorb the colostrum starts to decline by 8-12 hours, and disappears by 18 to 24 hours. Failure to absorb adequate colostrum results in a condition called the failure of passive transfer, which leaves the foal susceptible to serious infection. If your foal is not standing and nursing within a timely manner, call your veterinarian, who will examine the foal for abnormalities and give it some colostrum by stomach tube.
2) Most neonatal specialists now recommend that 0.5% chlorhexidine solution be used instead of a tincture of iodine to dip the navel. Tincture of iodine is very irritating to tissues and can seal infection up in to the navel due to its excessive drying action. Chlorhexidine can be purchased from your veterinarian, feed store, or a catalog company. If you choose to use a tincture of iodine, it should be diluted one part iodine to two parts water. Dip the navel daily for 3 to 4 days. Bed your foal on straw (not shavings) during this time, in order to lower the incidence of infections.
3) Give your foal an enema 3 hours after birth. Use Fleet® Enemas from the drugstore. Never use force inserting the enema. Note whether or not the foal urinates.
4) Many of the illnesses contracted by foals have subtle signs and can be treated with success if caught early. For this reason we recommend that all foals be examined by a veterinarian between 12 and 18 hours of age, and that they receive a routine blood test and vitamin/mineral injections at that time.
5) A foal can be seriously ill and show only slight indications of illness, such as listlessness or decreased interest in the mare or surroundings. Some have “milk face” caused by the mare’s full udder spaying at them due to lack of adequate nursing. A seriously ill foal may still nurse quite normally, however, and may or may not have a fever. If you are in doubt as to the health status of your foal, call your veterinarian. That call may be lifesaving.