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By Robert Gruda, D.V.M.

As foaling season hits mid-stride, it’s important to review the problems newborns can experience. Although most foals are born and develop without incident, there are several problems that can occur within the first few weeks. Without going into great detail, here are some of the more important problems to be aware of.

First Milk. The mare’s first milk is called colostrum and is thick with lifesaving antibodies that immediately protect the foal. The foal can only absorb colostrums within the first 6-12 hours of life. So if the foal does not nurse or the mare has inadequate colostrum, the foal is greatly susceptible to infection.

Immunodeficiency. Arabian foals have an inherited condition that causes deficiencies in their immune system which leads to severe infections and death. It is important to diagnose these foals because both parents are carriers and should be identified.

Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome. These are foals that are usually characterized as “dummies” or “wanderers” because of their abnormal behavior. Some foals experience seizures immediately after birth. The problem is usually oxygen deprivation and/or lack of blood flow to the brain. Although the prognosis is very guarded, some foals with appropriate therapy can survive and develop normally.

Isoerythrolysis. This term describes another inherited type of disease which causes the foal’s red blood cells to rupture. This leads to severe anemia and death. If caught early, the foal can be treated and recover.

Septicemia. Probably the most common cause of death within the first seven days of life, this disease is basically a system-wide bacterial infection. The mare’s health during gestation, difficulty in foaling, nursing early, local environment, proper care of umbilicus, and other congenital problems can be involved.

The Umbilicus. The umbilicus carries blood and nutrients in, and waste products out, while in the mother’s womb. Failure of this area to seal after birth can lead to herniation, urine leakage, and abscesses.

Lung Disease. Complex changes in the lungs take place at birth that involve the lungs adapting to an air-filled environment from a fluid-filled environment. Many factors can interrupt this adaptation and lead to serious problems.

Bladder Rupture. Male foals, when squeezed through the mare’s pelvic canal, can at times rupture their urinary bladder which will lead to obvious problems. A five-day-old colt that is not eating and with a pot belly should tip you off.

Crooked Legs. Some newborns will have their front legs bow in or out, buckle forward, or appear very lax and sag backward. These problems need to be properly addressed for their severity.

Obviously there can be many things that can go wrong in the newborn foal. It is extremely important that any problem be caught very early. Routinely, many newborns are seen by their veterinarian on their first day and given preventative care. Have your veterinarian give you the full details on these and other problems with your newborn foal.

Robert Gruda is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with his own clinic south of Santa Fe.

Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 1998 issue.

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