Horse Hospital Vet Dr Robyn Charman Sheds Light on Emergency Foal Care

The South Eastern Equine Hospital provides both routine and emergency foal care. This includes intensive care of critically ill foals, and assessment and treatment of orthopaedic conditions.  As for myself, I work as an equine surgical specialist and am on call for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and we are lucky to have an equine medical specialist Dr Cate Savage, who works by my side when needed to help with any foal emergencies we may have.

Normal foals should stand within 1 hour after birth, be drinking within 2 hours and the mare should pass the placenta within 3 hours after foaling. It’s really important that mares are monitored closely and the placenta is checked to ensure the whole placenta has been passed. If you are uncertain whether this has occurred, then it is always safest to call one of our vets in to check her over.

The foal should pass meconium (first faeces) within 4 to 6 hours. If this doesn’t occur, the foal may become constipated and require treatment for the condition “retained meconium”. Foals should also be observed to ensure that they are urinating within 9 to 10 hours of birth. Foals can be prone to bladder rupture during the birth process and a failure to urinate can alert us to this possible problem. It can be a genuine emergency if the foal does not pass the meconium or urine in those first 10 hours, so please contact one of us as soon as possible if you are concerned about your foal’s well-being as early intervention for such problems is critical for a good outcome.

In general, signs that a foal may need veterinary care include not suckling, inability to stand, swollen joints, diarrhoea or a fever. Some foals do not receive an adequate transfer of colostrum (first milk) from the mare and this is detected by measuring the immunoglobulin levels (IgG) in the blood of the foal 8 to 24 hours after birth.

A common problem with foals is sepsis. Sepsis is a medical emergency. It is defined as bacteria or bacterial toxins in the bloodstream. Signs include diarrhoea, fever and swollen joints or an enlarged umbilicus. Adequate passive transfer of antibodies from colostrum (mare’s first milk) can help prevent sepsis. If foals are low in immunoglobulin, they will need to be artificially supplemented with an intravenous plasma transfusion to help fight the infection.    

We have a specialised mare and foal area, where the foal can be separated (but still be next to the mare) for intensive care management.  Our diagnostic and treatment capabilities include ultrasonography, digital radiography, oxygen administration to support foals with breathing problems, cardiac examinations, 24 hour IgG assessment, laboratory services, pulse oximetry to check the oxygen content in the blood, blood pressure monitoring and video camera monitoring.

This combination of high tech equipment and our equine specialist and emergency team can give your foal the best chance of survival should anything be of concern during those first 48 hours or thereafter.

Please feel free to call our hospital if you have any concerns about your foal’s well-being.


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