Q:What is the first thing I look for to tell if my foal has a respiratory problem, and what are the best things to do to prevent pneumonia and other problems from happening in the first place?

A:The most important signs of respiratory disease in neonatal foals are an increased respiratory rate (breathing hard), occasionally a cough, sometimes discharge from the nose, and fever. Some of the foals might be weak and have a difficult time getting up. These signs will all vary depending on the severity of the respiratory problem.

When a foal is born, you should run your finger along the roof of his mouth to check and see if the foal has a cleft palate. That congenital abnormality can cause the foal to get milk in its trachea and result in aspiration pneumonia. Some of these foals will have milk running out of their nose, another warning sign that pneumonia might occur.

Premature foals are at greater risk because they have poor lung development. You might notice that they have poor rib cage excursions, or their rib cage does not move in and out as well as that of a normal foal. Along with this goes poor expansion of the alveoli in the lung.

Poor colostrum absorption in any foal can lead to respiratory disease. The respiratory system can be a primary site of septicemia (caused by bacterial toxins in the blood).

With orphan foals or foals being fed on a bottle, make sure that the foal has a good suckle reflex and keep the bottle below eye level of the foal. This will help prevent milk from running down into his trachea and possibly causing aspiration pneumonia.