Dummy Foal Syndrome (Equine Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome)

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.
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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 delivery (when the placenta separates prematurely from the uterus and exits the birth canal with the foal), or a Cesarean section; or
  • shortly after birth, because of prematurity, recumbency (inability to rise), pulmonary (lung) disease, sepsis (infection in the bloodstream), or anemia (a decrease in normal number of red blood cells).

Clinical signs could be present either at time of birth or within 24-48 hours after foaling. In these cases the veterinarian usually has identified risk factors during pregnancy (i.e., placentitis) or during foaling (i.e., dystocia), says Lucas Pantaleon, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, equine internal medicine specialist in Versailles, Ky. “Foals that are normal at birth, have an uneventful delivery, and have no identified prefoaling risk factors usually don’t develop clinical signs until 24-48 hours after birth

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Written by:

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She’s schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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