Foal Rejection and Maternal Behavior

Foal rejection is a heartbreaking twist to an otherwise normal foaling and unless the mare has rejected a foal before, there is no way to predict if and when it will happen.
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After more than eleven months of waiting, your mare has finally delivered a fine, healthy foal. Yet shortly after the foal stands, the mare spins around, pins her ears, and attacks her foal. What is happening and what can you do?

Foal rejection is a heartbreaking twist to an otherwise normal foaling and unless the mare has rejected a foal before, there is no way to predict if and when it will happen. Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, is a behaviorist at Cornell University and has identified three major types of foal rejection by mares. The most common type of foal rejection is where a mare will not allow her foal to nurse. This might be due to anxiety, nervousness, fear, or discomfort. First time foaling mares may have a very painful udder. When the foal nudges the udder or attempts to suckle, the pain may cause the mare to refuse to allow the foal to nurse.

The second type of foal rejection is avoidance of the foal. Again, it often occurs with mares foaling for the first time. The mare appears to be frightened of the foal and tries to avoid it. These mares simply move away as the newborn foal stands and begins to approach the mare. The third and most serious type of rejection is where the mare shows aggression towards the foal.

Regardless of the type of rejection, it is essential to intervene if the foal is at risk. For mares that do not allow the foal to nurse, it is critical that the foal receives colostrum (first milk) as soon as possible. The mare might need to be restrained while her colostrum is harvested

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