Time to Prepare for Foaling!

Tips and Reminders to Help Prepare for Foaling

As spring approaches, we get closer to having many long-awaited foals hit the ground.  Below is some important information to help prepare you for an impending foaling.

First, a mare’s average length of gestation is 340 days (about 11 months), but this can range from 320-380 days.  It is a good idea to speak to your veterinarian to be sure everything is still going ok if the mare extends much beyond 345 days.

A couple important things to consider before imminent foaling are:

  • Caslicks – a Caslicks procedure is a common procedure performed with a local anesthetic to prevent infection (it seals the top half of the vulva).  If your mare has had a Caslicks performed, talk to your veterinarian about having it opened 1-2 weeks before the anticipated foaling date to avoid tearing of the mare during foaling.
  • Neonatal Isoerythrolysis (NI) – this condition causes jaundice in foals when the foal’s blood type is incompatible with the mare.  Nursing colostrum from the mare if the foal’s  blood type is incompatible with the mare may cause serious or life-threatening illness to the foal.  You can speak to your vet about ways to screen for NI.

Signs of impending birth include the following (times vary from mare to mare):

  • 2-4 weeks pre-foaling – udder begins to fill
  • 4-6 days pre-foaling – teats fill and distend
  • 1-4 days pre-foaling – waxing of teats
  • 1-3 days pre-foaling – milk calcium level increases sharply (detected with stall-side test strips)
  • Other signs can include softening and flattening of the croup muscles, relaxation of the vulva, and “dropping” of the abdomen

Parturition (foaling) is divided into three stages for monitoring and descriptive purposes.  The three stages of labor are as follows:

  • Stage I – This stage is the preparation stage that occurs before the mare’s water breaks.  There are a number of internal changes occurring, but external signs of stage I may be subtle.  Some signs that may be seen include: restlessness, pacing, lying down and getting back up, stretching, looking at the flanks, patchy sweating, and tail switching.  The end of stage I and the start of stage II is marked by the rupture of the chorioallantoic membrane (‘breaking water’) as the foal passes into the birth canal.  The length of stage I can vary greatly, sometimes taking a few hours.
  • Stage II – This stage begins when the mare’s water breaks and finishes when the foal’s hips have passed through the vulva.  During stage II the mare will normally be lying down on her side and having strong contractions.  She may stand up and reposition once or twice during this time.  The first thing that should appear during labor is a front foot, usually followed within a few inches by the second front foot.  If a red, velvety bag appears first, it should be ruptured immediately, as this means there has been early placental separation.  This is called a ‘red bag’ delivery and can cause severe hypoxia (lack of oxygen) to the foal, which can be extremely detrimental.  Stage II can be completed in less than 10 minutes, but usually takes around 20 minutes for mares.  If no significant progress is seen after 30 minutes, veterinary help should be sought.
  • Stage III – This stage consists of the passing of the placental membranes.  Visual straining usually stops after completion of stage II, but the uterus continues to contract to expel the placental membranes.  The entire placenta will usually be expelled in one piece ½ to 3 hours after the foal is born.  Force should not be used to try to pull the placenta out, as it is attached firmly and diffusely to the uterus and tearing either the placenta or the uterus can cause complications.  Once the placenta has passed, it should be inspected to ensure the entirety of it has come out (smooth ends with no tears).  If the mare has not passed the placenta in 3 hours, or there is suspicion that a piece of placenta is still in the mare, veterinary attention should be sought.

More tips for successful foaling and other information to come on our blog.  Stay tuned!

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