While many of us still wade in the effects of winter, we know Spring will be here before we know it! At BRD, we know that Spring Time means Foaling Time, and in this blog post we want to help you be prepared for foaling in any way that you can.
The foaling Process
A horse is pregnant for approximately 340 days (or 11 months); however, foaling can normally occur up to three weeks earlier than expected. If possible, it is best to be present during the foaling process, especially if this is the mare’s first foaling, just in case.
The most noticeable sign that the birth will occur soon is change in the size of the mare’s udders, which will occur about two-three weeks before foaling. If changes to your horse’s mammary area begins more than three weeks before the expected birthing, it may signify gestational problems. Within the last couple days of pregnancy, there will be visible accumulations of wax-like beads around the horse’s teats. This is a process called waxing, and those beads that are forming are made of colostrum: milk that is rich in antibodies.
While there are other subtle signs, such as changes to the pelvic ligaments, and sometimes a change in the shape of her abdomen, the most noticeable changes come from her behavior. A mare that is in the early phases of foaling may get up and lie down more frequently than normal, she may lift her tail to look at her flanks, and pace and sweat.
After this point, the mare will begin to deliver, which can occur in a variety of positions, but she will most likely lie on her side. The first thing that you may see her push will be a white, shiny membrane, call the amniotic sac. Then, the foal will begin to emerge, front hooves first, and then the head, and so on. After than amniotic sac is passed, the delivery should take 15-45 minutes, and then she will pass the placenta.
Pro Tip: Tie the placenta up with twine to prevent the mare from stepping on it, because it is still attached to her uterus. Once the placenta is passed, put it in a covered container, because your vet may want to examine it.
Sometimes, the foal may need your help removing the membrane from its nose and mouth before it can breathe. Should you need to do this, be quiet and subtle, as the mare will likely still be occupied with passing the placenta. The foal should be standing, and bonding with its mother within an hour.
Signs to call Your Vet:
- Premature mammary changes (more than three weeks prior to delivery):
- this indicates that the placenta is inflamed, which is often associated with fetal sepsis, hypoxia, and neonatal maladjustment syndrome.
- Dystocia (the foal is being birthed in the wrong position): while this is life threatening to the foal and mare, a vet can usually reposition the foal.
- Signified by extended period of labor time with little progress, or no progress for fifteen minutes after the water broke.
- This is the most common delivery complication.
- Premature Placental Separation- if the placenta appears when the mare is pushing before the foal appears.
- This indicates the foal does not have oxygen.
- If this occurs, time is of the essence: you will need to assist with your fingertips or a pair of scissors.
- Retained Placenta:
- If the placenta is still attached to the mare for more than three hours.
- If the placenta is not removed entirely, it may cause problems in future pregnancies, such as dystocia, placentitis, stillbirth, or other problems, such as laminitis.
- Sometimes, the uterine artery can rupture or tear during birth.
- Indicated by weakness, pale gums and shaking after birth
- Commonly mistaken as normal, post-birth exhaustion- so if you are not sure, just call!
- Uterine Rupture:
- Tearing of the Uterine Wall, usually caused by the hooves of the foal.
There are plenty of other, less severe complications, such as tearing, which may require stitches or surgery. These are usually not life threatening, like those listed above. Foaling can be a violent process, but luckily it is usually a quick one, and in healthy cases, they are often uneventful.
We hope this helped you prepare! Follow the BRD Blog for more fascinating information about horse health.
Optimum Equine Performance (n.d.) Foaling Your Mare. Chiltern Equine Clinic. http://www.chilternequine.co.uk/foaling-your-mare
Kane, E. (2010, April 30). How to Handle Common Foaling Complications and Injuries. DVM 360. https://www.dvm360.com/view/how-handle-common-foaling-complications-and-injuries
Equine Medical Service (n.d.) Foaling Problems. EMS Vet. https://emsvet.com/newsletters/foaling-problems/
Smith Thomas, H. (2020, May 12). How to Predict Foaling. The Horse. https://thehorse.com/148247/how-to-predict-foaling/