Death in Young Foals

February 18, 2008 (published)

A study was recently performed by the National Animal Health Monitoring System that looked at death rates of foals in 2005. The study found that almost 5% of the foals born alive died in the first 30 days. That's not too surprising considering everything that can happen to a foal. However, half of the foals that died did so in the first 2 days after birth. What this tells us is that close monitoring for the first 48 hours after birth could save many foals. This is why I recommend to our clients that all foals be examined at 12 hours after birth. This veterinary exam is critical to check for abnormalities such as weakness, infection, or leg problems. If foals are found to be abnormal on exam, many times early treatment can decrease their death rate.

Also, 15% of the foals that die in the first 30 days do so because they do not get adequate antibodies from their dam through the colostrum or first milk within the first 24 hours after birth. To prevent this, all foals can be tested for antibodies at 12 hours after birth and treated if necessary. If the antibodies are low at 12 hours, you still have time to tube feed the foal colostrum. If you wait until the foal is 24 hours old, then the foal will require a plasma transfusion, which is much more expensive. Also, over 18% of the foals that die in the first 30 days are related to injuries and trauma. For this reason, I believe foals should be kept in a small foal-safe contained area for at least 3 weeks; that helps prevent them from getting injured by running in the pasture to keep up with their dam until they are more coordinated. If you have a new foal born, I would highly recommend contacting your vet for a neonatal exam immediately after birth.

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