The first year of a horse’s life is a very special—and critical—time in its development. Naturally, we want to help you do everything possible to make sure your foal is strong and healthy. At the Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital, our board-certified large animal internal medicine specialists provide routine, emergency and intensive care for foals 24/7.
Potential Health Issues for Foals
Failure of Passive Transfer
Newborn foals require the colostrum (first milk) from their dams to provide them with essential antibodies that protect them from infection during the first days and weeks of life. If it doesn’t receive this, it severely risks developing life-threatening septicemia and other infections. Our team offers intensive medical and nursing foal care from birth to 30 days for these high-risk neonates.
A foal’s bladder is prone to rupturing if too much pressure is placed on it during delivery. Rupture tends to occur more with colts than fillies. If you observe a difficult delivery, lack of observed urination in the first 24–48 hours of life, and increasing lethargy, consult our team immediately. Rapid diagnosis is essential and treatment requires prompt surgical correction.
Foals are normally born with a low-grade heart murmur which should disappear within the first one to three days of life. However, a variety of other murmurs may be present beyond this time frame or may be more severe, in which case further veterinary attention is often required. We listen for and detect many such murmurs during well foal visits. Depending on the severity, clinical signs may range from lethargy, weight loss or even collapse. A thorough cardiac evaluation including echocardiography can help determine the precise cause and its significance.
Also known as “dummy foal” syndrome, maladjustment foals often experience a lack of oxygen to their brain during the delivery process. These foals frequently circle in their stall, have significant difficulty nursing and may even seizure. Our team of mare and foal experts offers intensive nursing care to help foals receive necessary nutrition via feeding tubes, as well as assist them with nursing off their dam until they’re strong enough to do so on their own.
Although rare in foals, neurologic problems may be the result of maladjustment syndrome, trauma to the head or neck, or an infection around the brain and spinal cord. Lethargy, weakness or, more severely, head pressing into walls with ongoing seizures are the signs to watch for.
Prematurity and Dysmaturity
Premature foals are those that are born too early. Dysmature foals are full-term but have physical characteristics of premature foals. In both cases, foals may have silky hair coats, curled ears, small bodies, domed heads and weak tendons. Because bones within the knees and hocks may not have properly calcified, these neonatal foals are predisposed to developing limb deformities. We provide intensive hospital care and support through this critical phase.
Angular and Flexural Limb Deformities
Some foals are born with an abnormal angular or flexural conformation to their lower limbs. While many foals will grow out of malformations, others will not. Prompt evaluation by our newborn horse experts can help determine if a foal requires correction in order to help them develop to their greatest potential.
Foals that experience swollen, firm and painful joints require swift veterinary attention. Infected joints that are not treated properly may lead to significant and permanent arthritis and impact any potential athletic career.
Foals may colic for a number of reasons such as stomach ulcers and parasites, or more complex situations such as telescoping of their intestines inside one another (intussusception). When colic is severe, foals may roll or lay down and thrash. Milder signs of colic include teeth grinding.
Many foals develop gastric ulcers following stressful events such as illness or weaning. Typical signs include mild colic or teeth grinding. Our diagnosis usually involves endoscopy followed by specific treatment.
An infection in a foal’s gastrointestinal tract can lead to signs of colic and diarrhea, which may appear watery or even bloody.
The umbilicus is a prime target for bacteria to enter. When it becomes infected, you may notice firm swelling, pain when it’s touched or discharge from the umbilical stump. In some cases, you may also notice the foal urinate from the umbilical stump.
Baby horses with respiratory infections typically exhibit a cough, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy and increased effort when breathing.
This occurs when an infection in the bloodstream is distributed throughout the body. It is life-threatening and requires immediate, intensive care to prevent it from seeping into a foal’s lungs, joints, umbilicus and gastrointestinal tract.
When foals and weanlings have poor quality, long coats; a pot-bellied appearance; and aren’t gaining weight correctly, we often use the term “ill thrift” to describe them. Our experts in foal care from birth to weaning will perform a thorough workup to help pinpoint the cause, which may include endoparasitism or chronic infection of the thorax or abdomen.
World-Class Foal Care
Whatever the issue, we will guide you and your foal through every step of the treatment process. We know this is a hugely important and exciting time, and are on-hand with state-of-the-art treatments and essential equipment you need, including:
- Plasma transfusions
- Fluid therapy
- Nutritional support
- Intranasal oxygen
- Warming blankets and special beds
- Postural support and leg wraps
- Supervised nursing
- On-site labs for blood tests and special disease testing
- On-site diagnostic imaging services
- Neonatal stalls with 24/7 monitoring
We understand that paying for your animal’s medical needs can be stressful. Your animal deserves the best care, and we have various payment options so your focus can be on getting your animal healthy.
Entrance and Parking for Trailers
After you arrive, please contact one of our staff if they are not immediately present to greet you, so that we may unload your animal from your trailer.
If it is helpful for you to leave your trailer here while your animal is an inpatient, you may use our dedicated parking stalls. Learn more about this option from our staff.
Questions or concerns about your foal?
Contact us today. Our team of experts includes experienced board-certified large animal internists, residents, veterinary technicians, animal caretakers and veterinary students—all working together to give your animal the best possible care.
SCHEDULE A FOAL APPOINTMENT:
Regular clinic hours are Monday through Friday, and our scheduling staff will assist you in finding an appointment with the right veterinary specialist based on your animal's needs at a time that works for you. Our emergency services for all species are also available 24/7 if your animal has a serious problem that requires immediate medical attention.