What is Foaling?
Mares prefer foaling late at night, or early in the morning in privacy, so be sure to give her space, while keeping on eye on her in case you need to call your veterinarian. Predicting when your mare will foal is useful to ensure you will be there when she needs you. A variety of methods can be used, from creating a timetable, monitoring symptoms, and using test strips to measure electrolytes in her blood. This prediction can also ensure the health of the foal.
Foaling is the natural process of birthing a foal. This occurs generally about eleven months after a mare has bred successfully. Foals can be premature and may need specialized care, or the gestation can be longer than normal. 90% of the time, though, foaling is successful, resulting in a healthy foal and mare.
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Symptoms of Foaling in Horses
Mares that are about to foal may have symptoms such as:
- Engorged and very tight udder
- Abdominal swelling or edema along the midline
- Udders may drip milk, first clear, then white, then yellow (colostrum) near foaling time
- Vulva and croup muscles will relax
- Elongated vulva
- Tailhead becomes more prominent, and the skin softens
- Teats become engorged
- Wax like secretion appears from teats
- Getting up and down repeatedly
- Kicking at belly
- Biting at abdomen
- Looking at abdomen
- Aggression towards people or other horses
- Longer periods of rest
- Seeking solitude
- Increased breathing rate
- Tail swishing or held up
- Concentrated grazing
- Frequent urination
- Passage of allantoic fluid, or the water breaks
During foaling, you will see:
- White, grey, or red membrane appears at vulva
- Foot appears within membrane, then another foot, then a nose
- Birth of entire foal
There are three recognized stages of foaling.
This is the preparation stage before birth that brings contractions and signs of discomfort. Your mare will be restless, anxious, sweat, swish her tail, and urinate more frequently. This usually takes 1 to 2 hours, but the mare can prolong this if she feels unsafe. The amniotic sac can be seen protruding from the vulva, and the sac will break, spilling out the fluid.
This is the actual birthing of the foal, and moves quickly, usually within only 30 minutes. The mare may get up or down to reposition the foal, but will lay down for the actual birth. A hoof should be visible in the amniotic sac, followed by another hoof, then a nose, until the entire foal is born.
After delivery, labor begins again to expel the afterbirth and placenta, generally within 1 to 3 hours of emergence of the foal. It is important to let the placenta break off on its own, and it can be tied up to encourage this without tripping or scaring the mare or foal.
Causes of Foaling in Horses
The cause of foaling is the natural process of impregnation of the mare, which leads to the development and birth of a foal.
Diagnosis of Foaling in Horses
To determine if your mare is pregnant and on her way to foal, a hormone test that measures the blood for levels of equine chorionic gonadotropin (eCG) or estrogen can be used. An ultrasound can also be performed to diagnose a pregnancy, and can yield results as early as 12 to 18 days after ovulation. Another ultrasound is often performed again between 25 to 35 days of pregnancy to confirm that the embryo is still viable.
Treatment of Foaling in Horses
Once your mare has been confirmed to be pregnant, there are steps you can take to ensure her health, and that of her foal. Within 4 to 6 weeks of foaling, your mare should be given any needed vaccinations, including a tetanus booster, and worm control. You should also be monitoring the udder on a daily basis for indications of foaling time.
When it is 2 weeks till foaling time, if vulvar stitches, or caslicks, are present, they need to be removed, as they can decrease the size of the vulvar opening and cause the mare to rip. You should also prepare a clean place for the mare to foal, whether it is in a clean and protected grassy pasture, or in a tidy stall. Baby proof either area to ensure there is nothing to harm the foal, including shavings which can get into the foal’s nose and cause pneumonia.
If you need to know when your mare will foal, there are tests on the market that can measure electrolytes such as calcium, sodium and potassium. Varying concentrations of these electrolytes can predict how close your mare is to foaling.
Treating the horse
When your mare begins to foal, allow her to be undisturbed and watch at a distance. If there are any apparent problems, notify your veterinarian immediately. Some things you can do are to wrap your mare’s tail lightly with a clean wrap, wash her vulva and hindquarters, and provide clean bedding. Monitor your mare during foaling from afar, but do approach if you are concerned there is a problem. Be ready with a first aid kit. Once the foal is born, allow a moment for the amniotic sac to break open naturally, but assist if needed, making sure to leave mare and foal alone after that to properly bond.
Observe your mare and new foal carefully for the next 24 hours, and provide fresh, drinking water for your mare. Be sure the foal is breathing, is alert, and attempts to rise within 30 minutes of birth. While usually mares can foal without any problems, there are times when your mare may need help.
Call your veterinarian if:
- Birthing takes longer than 30 minutes
- If the first hoofs out of the vulva are facing with the soles up
- If you suspect the foal is not in a normal position
- If the amniotic sac is red, as this means the placenta is detaching, and can suffocate the foal
- If the placenta is not expelled within 3 hours of birth, as this can cause an infection
- If pain during Stage three gets worse or continues past an hour
- If foal is not breathing
- If the foal does not rise or nurse within 3 hours of birth
- If the foal does not defecate or urinate within 5 hours of birth
- If mare has an elevated temperature
Recovery of Foaling in Horses
Once the foal is born, monitor it for healthy signs of its first few hours. Ensure it begins to pass feces and urine within 5 hours from birth, that is it breathing and sitting up, that it can stand within 90 minutes, and that it begins to nurse within 150 minutes.
Have a veterinarian examine the foal within its first 24 hours. This may include an IgG test. The vet may also check the placenta and the mare to ensure her health.