May 06 2016

Foaling – what to do prior to, during and after the big event


You have successfully managed to get your mare in foal. She will be pregnant for an average of 340 days (320-365days).


Pregnancy can be diagnosed by 16 days post-service then confirmed at 45 days post service. Early embryonic death most commonly occurs prior to this.

If the mare is regularly vaccinated then her annual booster during her pregnancy is sufficient to produce antibodies in the colostrum. If the mare has never been vaccinated then a course for tetanus/strangles should be undertaken immediately (early in pregnancy) and her first booster given 8-10 weeks prior to her foaling date. Mares can be vaccinated against Equine Herpes virus, a common cause of abortions in Australia. Mares should be initially be given a course with two vaccinations 4weeks apart then vaccinated again in the 5th, 7th and 9th month of pregnancy. Regular worming and feet trimming is essential. Dental checks for all horses should be annual and brood mares are no exception, horses that are in their late teens or early twenties should be checked every 6 months. Caslicks must be removed 2-4 weeks prior to the due date.

Have the mare brought into the foaling paddock/stall 6-8weeks prior to her foaling date, to allow adequate antibodies against the immediate environment to be present in the colostrum.

Do not have the mare (and then mare and foal) over the fence from other horses as this encourages wire injuries from horses fighting over the fence or getting caught in the fence trying to see the foal.

If the mare shows signs of colic – pawing, rolling, lying down or looking at her flanks prior to her foaling date please call your vet immediately. This can be an indication of that the mare may be aborting. If the mare starts to run her milk early, try to collect this milk and freeze it and call your vet to discuss what is needed when the foal is born. A mare that runs her milk early loses the colostrum that is the foal’s only immunity when it is first born until it is 3mths of age. The foal will be considered high risk when born and will need veterinary attention within hours of birth.

Any vaginal discharges should be reported to your vet, clear or otherwise as they may represent problems. Placentitis occurs between 5-7th month of pregnancy and is a common cause of mares aborting at this time. Mares who aborted last pregnancy may need monthly pulsed antibiotic and hormone therapy for placentitis prevention. This should be discussed with your vet.

Miniature Horses usually have an unknown due date as there are difficult to do trans-rectal scans on. Trans-abdominal scans may be performed from 3 months onwards. Small miniature horses and Shetland’s may have an increased risk of foaling difficulties and should not, therefore, be allowed to become obese.

The mare should be on a normal (pre-pregnancy) diet and not overweight for the first two trimesters. In the third trimester the foal will start to grow rapidly and the mare will need extra nutrition. Good quality hay/forage should make up the bulk of the diet. Extra supplements are not needed in most cases.

Regular light exercise is important during the first 7 months of pregnancy. In the last trimester the mare will get adequate exercise from being in a paddock.

The mare will start to show signs days to weeks prior to foaling.

  • the udder will start to develop
  • vulva swells and lengthens
  • teats “wax up” 1-4 days prior to foaling.


There are three stages:

Stage 1

  • Looks like mild colic, usually in the very early hours of the morning.
  • Mare will be restless, sweating, watching flanks, pawing, passing small amounts of faeces
  • Ends with the mare’s water breaking
  • May last up to an hour

Stage 2 – Birth

  • should only last 20-30mins. ANY LONGER = EMERGENCY
  • young maiden mares may take a little longer then older experienced mares

Stage two starts with:

  • the mare’s water breaking
  • then the foal’s two front legs should appear, one slightly in front of the other, hooves should be facing down
  • then nose, head, neck, shoulders etc

The mare is usually on her side during this phase; therefore the foal is delivered on its side. The umbilical cord will be intact and movement of the mare and foal will break it. Do not interfere and break it prematurely as the foal is still receiving blood from it. The membranes over the foals nose and head should break during the actual foaling. If it doesn’t and the mare doesn’t make moves to break the membranes and clear the foal’s head then you should do this as gently as possible. Try to disturb the mare and foal as little as possible when doing this. The mare and foal can stay in sternal recumbency for 30-40 mins, post foaling.

If the foal doesn’t come out completely within 30 mins of obvious abdominal contractions starting call your vet immediately as there is a problem. If you notice any green-black discharge or yellow staining on the foal, call the vet immediately as the foal may be “high risk” and need veterinary attention.

The umbilical cord should be dipped in an anti-septic solution several times in the first 24hrs. Talk with your vet about an appropriate solution. DO NOT use dettol. The foal should be on its feet with in 1-2 hrs and sucking within 3 hrs of birth.

Stage 3

This stage involves passing the placental membranes (afterbirth). It should occur within 1-2 hrs of foaling. Ideally the placental membranes should be kept aside for the vet to assess when they do their post foaling check. If the mare hasn’t passed the afterbirth within 2-3 hrs then she will need veterinary attention. This can be a very serious problem in mares.

We recommend a post foaling check for the mare in foal within the first 24 hrs. The foal’s immune status can be checked and any congenital problems can be assessed. Mum can be checked for tears, a caslick can be replaced if necessary and udder, milk and the foals suckling ability can be assessed. The placenta can be checked for tears, abnormalities and any missing pieces. If there are any problems with the foal or mum, the post-partum check should be done as soon as possible.

The Neonatal Period

The foal should be seen to be passing its meconium (first faeces) and urinating appropriately within six hours of birth. Retained meconium (constipation) or a patent urachus (urinating from their umbilical cord) will cause the foal to be colicky. It will roll, paw, look around at its flanks and need veterinary attention.

Foals can be wormed from two weeks of age and vaccinations can start at 3 mths of age.

Young maiden mares may show nervousness/aggression towards the newborn foal and refuse to let it suckle. These mares may need sedating to allow the foal to drink and give the mare time to get used to being a mum.

Please do not hesitate to call the clinic if you have any further questions or problems.

NB: The views expressed in this newsletter are by way of general discussion only and relevant veterinary advice should be sought before action is taken.

Lifelearn Admin | Uncategorized

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