Vet Services Wairarapa Ltd, 24 Lincoln Rd, Masterton

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What happens during foaling?

Foaling is divided into 3 stages.

Stage 1 - Labour begins

Womb contractions begin, and the birth canal opens ready for the foal to pass through. Signs you may observe are:

  • Restlessness.
  • Signs like colic, eg flank watching, pawing.
  • Sweating.
  • Frequent passage of small quantities of manure.

This stage can last about an hour. Do not disturb the mare during this time - have as few people present as possible. Stage 1 ends with the 'breaking of the waters' which then flow out of the vulva.

Stage 2 - the birth of the foal

This stage lasts about 30 minutes and is a very explosive event (if it takes longer, call Wairarapa Equine immediately).

The mare will lie down and have strong belly contractions that push the foal down the birth canal. The foal normally comes through the vulva in the following way:

  • Front feet first, one slightly in front of the other, hooves facing down.
  • Followed by the nose, head, neck, shoulders etc.
  • The foal is usually delivered lying on its side, hind legs to the level of the hock inside the vagina, with the umbilical cord intact.
  • If the foal is coming differently to this sequence, contact Wairarapa Equine immediately.

Do not intervene when the foal is delivered unless there is something wrong (see below).

The foal will be covered in the birth membranes (amnion) which often breaks at the moment of delivery and which the mare will lick and nibble off: this is an important bonding process between the mare and foal and also stimulates the foal to breathe, stand up and suck.

If the membrane is covering the foal's mouth and nose and the mare does not clean it away immediately, then remove it and clear the foal's nostrils and mouth of any mucus yourself so that it can breathe freely.

Watch carefully for normal breathing.

The umbilical cord attaching the foal to the mare usually breaks when the foal struggles to rise or the mare gets up. It is preferable for it to break naturally, so do not try to break it yourself, or disturb the mare so that it breaks early. The umbilical stump (the foal's navel) will need treating with a disinfectant, several times during the first 24 hours of life, to prevent infection. We usually recommend an iodine or chlorhexidine based product.

Stage 3 - the afterbirth is expelled

This can last 1-2 hours, but usually occurs within 1 hour of foaling. If it has not been expelled within 5 hours call us and tie up any membranes which are protruding from the vulva so that the mare does not step on them or tear them.

Keep the afterbirth (placental membranes) because it can provide us with valuable information about the birth. If some of the afterbirth is retained within the mare this can lead to serious post-foaling problems for her, eg laminitis and womb infections (metritis). 


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