Foals gambolling around a field are more vulnerable than you think, so, in the early days, vigilance is a must
It is obvious that a foal who does not stand will not be able to suckle, but owners sometimes do not realise that a foal which is constantly on the move, chasing after its mother, may not be able to suckle either. Unless the mare stands still for a short time, the foal may exhaust itself chasing her.
Hold the mare and foal so that the foal can suckle. It is possible to confirm from a blood test whether the foal has absorbed normal quantities of antibodies or not.
Now the foal is suckling normally, you need to keep an eye on it in case it stops suckling, as this is often the first sign of trouble. Problems progress more rapidly in newborn foals than in adult horses.
If a foal stops suckling, look for the following signs.
Problem: passing droppings
Foals may start going round with their tail raised up, perhaps squatting slightly and straining. This is an important warning sign of pain and discomfort, and spells trouble. Perhaps the most common cause is retention of the meconium.
This means that the foal has not passed all of the faeces which built up while it was inside the mare.
Retention of the meconium is potentially fatal, so do not ignore the signs. It is usually a different colour from normal faeces, so if a small amount is passed when the foal strains, you can tell whether this is the problem.
If you suspect the foal has retained meconium, call your vet immediately, as foals can deteriorate rapidly with this.
Some foals are born with a soft swelling by the umbilicus where the cord attached them to the mare.
Unless the swelling is large, do nothing. Hernias are common and a decision about surgery can wait until the foal is stronger.
Sometimes, the area around the umbilicus becomes hard and warm. At the same time, the foal stops suckling and becomes lethargic.
Speak to your vet. The foal may have navel ill – an infection of the tissues around the umbilicus.
Foals should always run to their mother and suckle if disturbed. If a foal does not go for a drink, this is a warning to watch it carefully