Beware of Problems up to Two Weeks after Foaling (AAEP 2012)

Mares can make the entire birthing process look easy; some mares produce a healthy foal in as few as two hours, and most have a foal by their side within five to six hours. But Ahmed Tibary, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, from Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, warns that even though mare and foal might seem fine initially, complications in the mare can arise anytime during the immediate postpartum period, which lasts up to two weeks after foaling.

“All mares should be examined by a veterinarian within 12-18 hours of foaling, even when everything seems to be normal,” advised Tibary, who described post-foaling complications veterinarians should look out for during his presentation at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners' Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

On stud farms resident veterinarians have a specific protocol for examining postpartum mares, so catching problems in this period isn’t generally an issue. But in the case of small breeding operations or private farms with just a few broodmares, owners might overlook examination of an apparently healthy mare in the face of a seemingly thriving foal.

“Examination of the mare that had an apparently normal foaling and no apparent problems afterward should begin by simply observing the foal," explained Tibary. "Many postpartum conditions will result in poor foal-mare bonding.”

Tibary also recommended all owners keep the placenta in a cooler until a practitioner can examine it and hold off on administering oxytocin (which can help the uterus expel the fetal membranes) until he or she specifically directs.

Some issues affecting the mare arising in the immediate postpartum period can be mild, such as behavior issues and foal rejection. Others are much more serious. In cases of known retained placenta, if the mare is colicky, or if she had a difficult labor (dystocia), Tibary recommended veterinarians conduct advanced clinical evaluation postpartum, including transabdominal ultrasound or even hospitalization.

Other specific conditions affecting the mare in the postpartum period mentioned by Tibary include:

  • Septic metritis, an infection of the uterus that can lead to laminitis;
  • Hemorrhage from the urinary and/or genital tract that may or may not be visible (e.g., if the blood remains in the uterus);
  • Uterine tears, rupture, or prolapse;
  • Colic due to intestinal twists or displacements; 
  • Tears of the vagina, rectum, or perineum; and
  • Lack of milk production or infection of the mammary gland (mastitis).

Knowing risk factors for these conditions, such as age of mare, breed, previous injury/trauma (especially to the reproductive tract during previous foaling) together with physical examination findings postpartum can expedite the identification of affected mares. Once identified, the appropriate tests and treatments can be instituted, which might include transferring the mare and foal to a hospital.

“Postpartum complications of the mare can be life-threatening emergencies requiring rapid diagnosis and aggressive treatment to achieve a successful outcome,” concluded Tibary.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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