Before looking for abnormalities when assessing a newborn foal, it is important to have a thorough understanding of what is normal. Below are eight key characteristics of normal foal behaviour to look out for in your newborn.
1. A normal foal should be able to right itself within 2-3 minutes after being born and maintain itself on its chest.
2. It should be standing within 60 minutes. (It should be considered abnormal if the foal takes longer than 2 hours from birth to standing.)
3. It should have a suckle reflex by 30 minutes. This can be tested with a finger at the foal’s muzzle to see if there is teat seeking behaviour.
4. Your foal should be nursing from the mare within 2 hours. (If the foal has not nursed by 4 hours it is abnormal.) Don’t assume it is suckling by the noises, get down and ensure it is getting a good tongue seal under the teat and not just sucking on the side or chewing the teat abnormally.
5. Frisky play may occur as early as 2 hours and galloping by 6-7 hours of age as a guide. Premature or weak foals may need to be confined.
6. Oral, conjunctival and vaginal mucous membranes should be moist and pink and have a capillary refill time between 1 and 2 seconds. (If cyanosis (blue membranes) is present then the foal is severely depleted of oxygen.) Newborn foals may have pale gums when born but ‘pink up’ within a minute.
7. Normal urination - the average time to first urination in colts is 6 hours and nearly 11 hours in fillies. Colt foals may not drop out their penis which is normal.
8. Passing meconium - Most foals will display some abdominal straining within a few hours of birth and then pass most of the meconium within the first 24 hours of life. Excessive straining can distract foals from drinking properly so consider if the foal may need some treatment.
One of the most valuable tools to determine how your foal is adapting is to watch it for 5 minutes without holding the mare or foal. Such as waking the foal and encourage it to stand and then watch what it does around the mare for a few minutes. It is at this time that subtle changes in behaviour can indicate early signs of a problem.
Critically ill neonates are often weak, depressed, recumbent, unable to suckle normally and require immediate attention by your veterinarian. Time is very critical when it comes to newborn foals and it always better to seek assistance as early as possible for the most successful outcome. If in doubt, always call your veterinarian.