Foal Rejection

To understand why foal rejection occurs and how to prevent it, you must first realize what is normal post-foaling maternal behavior.

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Your prized mare has just given birth to her first, long-awaited foal. The whole family and several of your friends have stayed awake to watch the event. The new filly foal appears healthy and strong as she quickly begins her attempts to stand. The foal, after several spectacular crashes, finally makes it to her feet. As flashbulbs go off, your mare suddenly becomes anxious, then obviously distressed. She lunges at the foal, ears pinned, teeth bared…

The above scenario is not a common one, but foal rejection definitely occurs and is a serious problem if it rears its ugly head. There are several different manifestations or degrees of foal rejection, a behavioral problem that occurs after the foal is born. To understand why foal rejection occurs and how to prevent it, you must first realize what is normal post-foaling maternal behavior. This article will describe what should take place between mare and foal (normal behavior), what abnormal behavior is, thoughts on how to prevent foal rejection, and how foal rejection is treated in order to get the mare to accept the foal.

It is thought that the mare begins to form the bond with her foal during the early stages of labor. At the end of Stage I labor, the mare’s water breaks and the fluid which surrounds the foal within her uterus (amniotic fluid) is expelled. The mare usually will spend a fair amount of time smelling the fluid.

After the mare gives birth, she will again smell the fluid, along with the placenta. She might even show more interest in the fluids and placenta than the foal, at first. The mare also might show flehmen (upper lip curling) after she smells the fluid. This is considered normal behavior in the mare and some people believe that this is how the mare recognizes the foal as hers. The mare will identify the foal with the amniotic fluid, because the foal will smell like the fluid, thus the mare will recognize the foal as hers

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Written by:

Christina S. Cable, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, owns Early Winter Equine in Lansing, New York. The practice focuses on primary care of mares and foals and performance horse problems.

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