The first days of a foal’s life can be risky; there are a number of things that can go wrong. Some problems can be dealt with easily (such as constipation), while others are life-threatening (such as a ruptured bladder).

In this article, Bonnie Barr, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, an internist at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., Jennifer Davis, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, Dipl. ACVCP, an assistant professor of equine medicine and pharmacology at North Carolina State University, and Debra Sellon, DVM, PhD, a professor of equine medicine at Washington State University, give advice on the most common foal problems the horse breeder might face.


Monitor the foal through his first day of life to make sure he passes the meconium (a dark greenish mass that accumulates in the bowel during fetal life and is discharged shortly after birth). Colostrum acts as a laxative to stimulate the gut, but sometimes hard fecal balls are difficult to pass.

“The foal may strain to defecate and may become distended (have a bloated abdomen) and colicky,” says Barr. “He may act like he wants to nurse, but won’t, because of discomfort.”

The foal might root at the udder and you’ll think he’s nursing, but you need to watch and make sure he does. He might come away from the mare and his head will be wet, because he was merely butting the udder and the mare was streaming milk all over him.

Barr says, “Treatment for constipation is generally an enema–a little soapy warm water. Most of these foals do fine (fecal balls soften up and are more easily passed). At the other extreme, sometimes at the clinic we get a foal in which the tract is so blocked we must hold him off milk and supplement him with a dextrose solution until that material works through.

“Sometimes we give foals a retention enema to keep the fluid in longer (for about 20 minutes