This term applies to foals that exhibit ­abnormal ­behaviors and/or ­neurologic signs during their first few days of life.

Dummy foal syndrome is not a disease but, rather, a broad term that applies to foals that exhibit abnormal, often vague behaviors and/or neurologic signs during their first few days of life. These signs include sleepiness, ataxia, weakness, circling, disinterest in the mare or in nursing, loss of suckle reflex, chewing or licking stall walls, abnormal vocalization, hypersensitivity to the touch, depression, or seizures. Other names used to describe this syndrome are neonatal maladjustment syndrome, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, peripartum asphyxia syndrome, wanderer foal, or barker foal (for foals having abnormal vocalizations).

Causes

Although commonly associated with an adverse periparturient (around the time of birth) event, dummy foal syndrome also occurs in foals that haven’t had an obvious periparturient problem. “Thus, dummy foal syndrome could result from some type of unrecognized in utero hypoxia (inadequate oxygen supply),” says Bonnie Barr, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, an internist at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.

Hypoxia can affect a number of the foal’s organs, including the central nervous system and brain, gastrointestinal tract, liver, and kidneys. Caused by a decreased blood flow to the placenta or the foal, hypoxia can occur:

  • in utero, due to placentitis (inflammation of the placenta) or a decrease in blood flow to the uterus secondary to a maternal illness;
  • at birth, from dystocia (difficult birth), redbag