A newborn foal can be one of the most beautiful images seen in nature, and yet the sudden responsibility can weigh heavy for the owner. Decisions made when a foal is young can directly impact the adult it becomes. Figuring out when vaccines should be administered, when the foal should begin eating solid food, and what might happen if a veterinarian is not present for the birth are all common questions that horse owners ask. There seems to be a thousand things that may preoccupy the mind of any horse owner. For this reason, it is very important for a horse owner to research topics relating to major health concerns – specifically birth, vaccinating, deworming, and nutrition.
For any horse owners who are managing foaling for the first time, it's best to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible, and ensure they will be available the day of. At the very least, schedule a conversation on what to expect. A horse-owner should have a good working knowledge of what are normal and abnormal events during birth, what they need to do, and when. Actions will need to be taken immediately when the foal is born. For instance, if for whatever reason the foal is not breathing after about a minute, the foal's nostrils should be cleaned immediately, and within thirty minutes, the mare's utters should be cleaned so the foal can feed. Usually a foal will need a full veterinary examination within 12 to 24 hours.
Protection against viruses for the foal typically starts with the mare four to six weeks before birth. Schedules for vaccinations typically depend on whether or not the mare had been vaccinated. Regardless, vaccination of foals prior to three months is not widely practiced. However, letting the foal go untreated longer than four months is typically a bad idea, as this is usually the time for treatment against the west Nile virus. There are many, many diseases to be concerned about, from rabies to influenza. Vaccinations are supremely important and a schedule should be discussed with a veterinarian, again preferably before birth.
Internal Parasites are a danger to many animals, horses included. Foals are exposed very early to worms such as the threadworm and the dangerous roundworm. The general recommendation to prevent internal parasites is to administer oral medications every two months that the foal ingests either via a paste, combined with rations, or, if necessary, placed directly into the stomach via a tube. Note that using multiple medications or changing medications is a common practice. Parasites, like bacteria can form a resistance to medication that can further endanger the animal. Before switching, consult a veterinarian and always consider the foal's weight when looking at labels.
Much like humans and other mammals, foals need to slowly wean off of a mare's milk and start on solid food. The food that introduces new vitamins and minerals to a foal is called "creep feed". Foals start on creep feed typically after about eight weeks, and eat it periodically in small portions. Creep feed can be bought directly or made by combining ingredients like soybean, oats and corn. Also, it is important to keep the mare's needs in mind while she is milk-feeding.
At almost any point in the process the foal can suffer from health issues. During birth, the foal should begin to come out feet first, if it appears this is not happening, then you will need the help of an experienced veterinarian. The foal also could not nurse within two hours (the recommended time), in which case a veterinarian should also be contacted. Shortly after, the foal could become constipated. After the first few months, the horse may contract a common ringworm, or suffer from influenza. Feeding issues will produce slow growth, and can relate to malnutrition. Critical issues such as this should be discussed with a veterinary doctor, and with a knowledgeable, observant horse-owner, can largely be avoided.
While horse owners should be close by to observe and ensure that the birth is going smoothly, they should also give the mare her space. She will likely be uncomfortable and could be aggressive or anxious towards her owners. With the proper veterinary care and knowledge, the new foal should begin thriving shortly after birth.