Skip to main content

Disease Du Jour: Foaling Tips and Guidelines

Veteran equine reproduction expert Dr. Tom Riddle walks us through some tips for foaling season.
foaling in stall mare licking newborn foal

"A new veterinarian has all he or she needs on the practice vehicle for a normal foaling," said equine reproduction specialist Tom Riddle, DMV, DACT (hon), a founding partner of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.

"A new veterinarian has all he or she needs on the practice vehicle for a normal foaling," said equine reproduction specialist Tom Riddle, DMV, DACT (hon), a founding partner of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. "You should have a bucket, mild soap (such as Ivory), and scissors in case of a red bag presentation."

The first Disease Du Jour podcast of 2022 features some tips and conversations with Riddle, who has probably foaled more mares than most veterinarians will see in their lifetimes!

The Disease Du Jour podcast is brought to you in 2022 by Merck Animal Health.

Riddle recommended that recent veterinary graduates or veterinarians who are not well-versed in equine reproduction/foaling and who are working with an owner who is also not experienced in foaling "probably would do well to send that mare to someone with experience or make sure and have the vet present."

That could be difficult if the veterinarian is more than a few minutes away from the farm.

Riddle warned that foaling mares are unpredictable. He said some mares might act colicky, and an inexperienced owner might not immediately think about labor. "It could be Stage I labor or it could be digestive upset," said Riddle. That takes an experienced lay person or a veterinarian to decipher.

He also recommended that if you are going to have a client send a mare to a foaling facility that she be sent early. "You want the mare accustomed to the surrounds and the [human] presence," said Riddle. 

He said mares like quiet for foaling, so don't enter a barn and turn on all the lights. He suggested using headlamps or flashlights or having cameras suited for low-light situations.

In Stage II labor when the water breaks, Riddle said you should make sure the foal is positioned properly. "You should feel or see both front feet and the nostrils/head just behind them," he noted. "The foal will be in the classic 'diving' position with the soles down and the head behind the front feet."

He reminded veterinarians that the foal needs to be out and on the ground within 30 minutes of the mare's water breaking.

"You need to get that foal out," he said. "A lot of people think they can wait, but you can't. Owners need to have a plan with an experienced foaling person or veterinarian to get there right away. If that person is an hour away and it's the middle of the night..."

Riddle said while 80% of the time a foaling novice will have no issues, but in that 20% of cases if the foaling is not progressing properly, you need to intervene.

If you are the vet on hand and the mare is not progressing normally with Stage II labor, Riddle said check the foal's position. If the foal is not in the correct position (leg or head back, for example), move the foal to the proper position or send the mare to a clinic right away.

Post-foaling if the foal is acting normal and it was foaled at night, it is fine for the veterinarian to go out the following morning to check the mare and foal. Make sure the placenta passes within 5-6 hours and that the entire placenta has passed.

Riddle said the risk of a retained placenta is real in any mare, and it usually happens in the non-pregnant horn. "Even if the foal is normal, you can still be in trouble with the mare," reminded Riddle.

He went on to talk more about checking the placenta, meconium, placentitis, and colostrum and IgG (he said IgG levels of 400 or less 12 hours from nursing means the foal is in trouble).

Rib fractures is another important part of the foal exam, noted Riddle. "You need to practice and develop a technique to palpate the ribs. You can feel the dislocation," said Riddle.

The Disease Du Jour podcast is brought to you in 2022 by Merck Animal Health.

logo-merck

AAEP-MediaPartner_1968x1100
AVMA-PLIT-logo_resized
BEVA-logo_3757x2100
WEVA-Logo-Dark-Background_1789x1000
NZEVA-logo_1100x1968

ISELP-logo_1100x1968

AAEVT-logo_2050x3667
Untitled design (7)
epm-society-partner_1968x1100
Mexican-equine-vet-association-