There is nothing more wonderful than seeing new foals playing and getting into trouble in a pasture in the spring. Did you know one of the most important things you can do for your brand new foal is schedule a Well Foal Exam in the first 24 hours of his life?
Foals are born into the world without much in the way of a good immune system and depend on their mother’s colostrum (first milk) to provide antibodies to help them fight off infection until their own bodies are ready to protect them. Additionally, they need lots and lots of glucose from milk to keep themselves warm and to makes sure they transition successfully to life outside the uterus. It’s important to make sure they have absorbed enough antibodies and that they learn how to nurse appropriately. Your veterinarian will check the foal’s suckle reflex and also ensure he doesn’t have a cleft palpate. A small amount of blood will be drawn for a snap test to evaluate the effectiveness of the colostrum to protect the foal from illness. Healthy foals should have an IgG (antibody concentration) of >800mg/dL. If it is less than the 800 cut off, your veterinarian may need to tube the foal with more colostrum or give an intravenous plasma transfusion and start antibiotics
Many of the same things we think about with human infants are concerns with foals too. Foals have belly buttons and if they do not close appropriately, they can be prone to hernias or infections in this region. Your veterinarian will evaluate the foal’s umbilicus (belly button) and probably want to see the foal urinate to make sure no urine is coming from this structure. Sometimes an ultrasound of this area may be necessary as well.
Occasionally foals are born with heart murmurs that go away within a couple of days. These can be normal, but other times murmurs may suggest a defect within the heart. It is important for your veterinarian to be able to listen to your foal and determine if everything sounds normal. Foals are also prone to rib fractures while playing or even during birth. Your veterinarian will palpate all of his tiny ribs to make sure nothing seems out of place.
Checking your foal’s legs for straightness or in some cases complete development of his bones is also important for his athletic life later on. Correction of some angular limb deformities needs to be instituted soon after birth to ensure the foal develops strong and healthy legs.
Do not forget your mare just brought a little horse into the world! Your veterinarian will examine her to make sure there was not any tearing or injury to her birth canal and that she is producing enough milk and her mammary gland is healthy.
Foals are so exciting and so rewarding to watch grow up! We are excited to be a part of your foal’s first day in this world!