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Horse Health 101 : Horse Health Library : Breeding

The Importance of Having Your Mare & Foal Evaluated After Foaling

The mare is examined to insure the placenta (afterbirth) has passed completely, and she is evaluated for any internal tears or damage that may affect her future breeding soundness.

The foal is examined for any congenital defects (especially hernias, cardiac defects, eye defects, cleft palate, or limb defects). The umbilicus is examined to make sure it is small and dry. The foal is evaluated to make sure its activity is appropriate for its age (curious behavior, nursing, playing, sleeping).

As you may know, the foal gets all of its antibodies from the mare's colostrum (first milk). These antibodies are crucial for the foals first few months of life because they're born without a developed immune system. They don't begin creating their own antibodies until several months of age. Therefore the antibodies they receive from the colostrum are critical in protecting them against infections until that time.

Blood is drawn from the foal to check IgG (antibody) levels. If the foal has not consumed enough colostrum (because the mare leaked it or did not make much or the foal did not nurse well initially – a few examples of possible problems), the foal will be highly susceptible to infections such as joint ill and, in many cases, may not survive. A very high percentage of foals in our neonatal ICU end up there as a result of a difficult birth and complicated by very little antibody protection.

The good news is that if discovered early, we can correct this problem with a plasma transfusion and dramatically increase the foals' chances of survival. You might ask, could the foal be given colostrum instead of a plasma transfusion after the IgG test results come back negative? When a foal is born, the intestinal tract can be thought to have a very porous lining. These micro holes in the lining allow the antibodies, a relatively large molecule, to slip directly into the blood stream. These channels close around 8 hours of age and they close permanently. A frightening fact about these channels is they can also allow bacteria direct access to the blood stream. These bacteria can then find their way into joints and other remote areas and become the seeds of infection. Therefore to answer the question, by the time we are aware of the failure of antibody transfer from mare to foal, it is too late to give colostrum and plasma must be given directly into the blood stream.

Ask yourself this, how many places will the foal suckle prior to finding the mare's udder? We recommend you milk the mare immediately after foaling and squirt 20 to 30 ccs of colostrum in the foal's mouth. This will give the antibodies a head start on the bacteria.

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