Preparation is important to ensure your new foal remains healthy, and appropriate care is necessary during their first few weeks of life to protect them from developmental conditions, infectious agents, parasites, and other issues. Leatherstocking Veterinary Services wants every foal to grow into a healthy, strong horse, so we are sharing seven tips to ensure your foal receives the proper care.

#1: Ensure your mare is healthy

A healthy foal begins with a healthy mare. Ensure your mare is a healthy weight, and feed her an appropriate diet that will provide adequate nutrition in the months before she delivers. She will need vaccinations against equine rhinopneumonitis at five, seven, and nine months gestation, and should receive core vaccination boosters about one month prior to foaling to increase antibody levels in the colostrum (i.e., the “first milk”) to protect the newborn foal’s developing immune system. She also should be dewormed a few weeks before foaling, because she is the foal’s primary parasite transmission source. Immediately contact our veterinary professionals at Leatherstocking Veterinary Services if your mare is leaking milk prior to foaling, to avoid colostrum loss.

#2: Monitor your newborn foal closely

Your foal’s first several hours of life are critical, and you must monitor them closely to ensure they progress appropriately. Parameters to monitor include:

  • Time to stand — Foals should be able to stand about one hour after birth. They will typically fail at their first few attempts, but they may have problems that require immediate veterinary attention if they are still having difficulty standing after an hour.
  • Time to nurse — Foals should successfully nurse about two hours after birth, and should ingest at least one to two pints of colostrum in their first 24 hours to ensure adequate antibody absorption.
  • Time to fetal membrane passage — Mares should pass their placenta up to three hours after foal delivery. A veterinary professional needs to evaluate the placenta, so ensure you save the membranes.
  • Time to meconium passage — Foals should pass their first manure (i.e., meconium) about 12 to 24 hours after birth. Meconium is typically dark brown or black in color, with a pelleted consistency. After this passage, the foal’s manure should be soft and light tan in color. A prophylactic enema can help reduce your foal’s meconium impaction risk.

You should also observe your foal’s umbilical cord, which the mare and foal should break with their movements, to ensure the foal receives the appropriate placental blood transfer. Once the cord is broken, you should dip the foal’s umbilical stump in dilute chlorhexidine or iodine twice daily for two to three days, or until the stump is dry. Then, inspect the stump to ensure the area remains dry, because urine dripping from the stump indicates that the urachus (i.e., the fetal urine passage from the bladder to the umbilicus) has not closed, and the foal needs veterinary attention.

#3: Schedule a foal examination

A veterinarian should examine your foal during their first 24 hours. A typical foal check involves an ophthalmic examination, a thorough physical examination, and visual checks for conformational disorders, as well as testing the foal’s IgG antibody levels to ensure they are higher than 800 mg/dl. Lower levels may indicate your foal needs plasma to provide the appropriate antibodies. Your mare’s fetal membranes should also be evaluated to ensure they are intact, with no abnormalities that would indicate mare or foal health concerns.

#4 Start handling your foal

Once your mare and foal have bonded, start handling your foal to acclimate them to human interaction. Pick up their feet, put your fingers in their mouth, and find their favorite scratching spot. Work with your foal for short periods each day, ensuring you stay near the mare so the foal does not become stressed.

#5: Get your mare and foal outside

As long as your foal has no conformational abnormalities, take them outside as soon as possible. Start in a small paddock for short periods, and gradually increase the time and space allowed. Running and playing not only help strengthen your foal’s limbs, but also help your mare recover mentally and physically from the birth.

#6: Ensure your foal gets the proper preventive care

Foals should receive their first vaccinations at about 4 months of age, and will need second and third doses at about four week intervals. In addition, they should start on a deworming schedule at about 2 months to protect them from parasites such as ascarids and strongyles. 

#7: Ensure your foal receives proper nutrition

Your foal may begin showing interest in feed and hay as early as 10 to 14 days of age, and nibbling their mother’s meals helps them learn to eat solid food. At 8 to 10 weeks, the foal’s nutritional needs may start to exceed the mare’s milk. A balanced dietary approach that supports a moderate growth rate is recommended to prevent conditions such as contracted tendons, epiphysitis, angular limb deformities, and osteochondrosis, which can occur if growth is too rapid. Guidelines to help feed your foal correctly include:

  • Roughage — Provide free choice, high quality roughage.
  • Creep feeding — Implement creep feeding at about 2 months of age to ensure the mare doesn’t eat the foal’s ration. Choose a feed specifically labeled for suckling foals that contains about a 14% to 16% quality protein source.
  • Weight monitoring — Use a weight tape to monitor your foal’s weight, so you can adjust their feed ration as needed, based on their growth and fitness.

Welcoming a new foal is an exciting time, and following these tips will help ensure your foal remains fit and healthy. If you have a new foal, contact our team at Leatherstocking Veterinary Clinic, so we can perform their new foal exam.