Nothing is more exciting than the miracle of birth, but those first hours also cause a lot of concern. Welcoming a new foal into the world takes supervision to ensure the safety of the delicate creature. A veterinarian visit should occur in the first 24 hours. However, an owner needs to know what to look for before and after the veterinarian leaves.
Immediately After Birth
Most owners play only a supervisory role during the birth, so most of the effort begins once the little one arrives. The first few breaths over the hour after arrival can seem rough. A foal may have some irregular breathing and sputter as the fluid in the lungs comes up. The release of the fluid may last for a few minutes or up to an hour. The foal’s heart rate can vary from 60 beats per minute (bpm) to 150 bpm as it adjusts to the new surroundings.
Umbilical Cord Management
The umbilical cord should break naturally a few minutes after the birth happens. Cutting the cord can cause excessive blood loss and is usually unnecessary. Once the break occurs, the owner should dip the umbilical stump into a cup of a veterinary-recommended disinfectant to reduce infection risk. Wrap the stump only if continued bleeding after breakage occurs. Excess bleeding from the umbilicus and other issues can cause concern and may mean a call to the veterinarian.
Nursing Attempts Begin
Foals will seek out their mothers and begin to suckle about an hour after the birth. Most will already have awkwardly pulled themselves up, but it is easier to view the legs for straightness and swelling or see other anatomy issues once they decide to feed. The first nursing experience usually involves a lot of clumsiness, so balance problems and sloppiness are common. Owners should make sure to have an adequate amount of hay on the stable floor to make it easier for the newborn to stand. Newborns need colostrum from their mother’s milk, but they can only absorb it for a few hours. Call the veterinarian if the foal cannot nurse within a couple of hours for any reason.
Over the next few hours, the foal will learn to nurse more comfortably, gain strength, and begin to urinate and defecate. Contact the veterinarian to discuss any excess bleeding from the umbilical stump or any other obvious problem. The phone call may speed up their scheduled appointment or allow the vet to give instructions over the phone.