Premature Horse Birth Related Problems
 By Winniefield Park   •   6th Dec 2016   •   1,144 views   •   0 comments

In mid-November, a Pennsylvania newspaper ran a story about a foal that was born six weeks too early. The due date of a foal is usually an eagerly anticipated event, but Mother Nature isn’t always cooperative. In this case, the owner arrived in her barn to find a foal she initially thought was dead with a temperature so low it didn’t register on the thermometer. Being born too early presents some real obstacles to surviving and growing strong enough to live a healthy life. Often they need the veterinary equivalent of an intensive care nursery to help them.

Related: Pennsylvania horse born 6 weeks premature

The average gestation length for a mare is 341 days, just a few days over 11 calendar months. Some mares will wait a bit longer or hurry a few weeks earlier, so anywhere between 320 and 365 days is considered normal. A foal that is born before 320 days is considered premature, although even some foals born after this time period can still show signs of prematurity - a condition called dysmature. Premature births may happen because the mare has for some reason been induced either intentionally or naturally and the foal is born before it is fully ready. The most common natural reason a mare foals too early is an infection of the placenta. Occasionally, it’s wise to artificially induce a mare if she has any sort of pre-existing condition that might make foaling difficult.

There are some very obvious signs of a premature foal. Preemies will have floppy ear tips, bulging eyes, and very soft fur. This is because many of the foal’s tissues are not fully formed. They may not be able to stand because their bones and joints have not finished forming. If they do stand, they are in danger of damaging their legs. The weight of their own little bodies can crush the soft joints and bones of their legs, causing damage that can lead to lifelong unsoundness.

Because their digestive and respiratory systems have not grown yet, they are susceptible to difficulties when eating and breathing. Some foals may have to be resuscitated when they are born and will need special diets and feeding until they are able to eat on their own. Their suckling reflex may not be developed and they will not be able to stay upright long enough to nurse properly. This can mean it may not get enough of the immune boosting first milk, or take in enough to maintain energy and continue growing

Preemie foals are more likely to get lung infections. Their lungs may not expand and contract properly. To add to their breathing problems, they can have extra fluid in their lungs. Normally, while a foal that is born full-term makes it’s way out the confines of the birth canal, fluid is expressed from its tissues. The premature foal is not ‘squeezed’ in this way, and may retain fluid in the lungs.

Because they are born with very little body fat, keeping warm can be a problem. This means too, that unless their stores of energy are kept up with vigilant feeding, usually with a feeding tube, they can weaken quickly.

With so many of their bodily functions undeveloped, premature foals have a poor chance of survival. In the wild, they wouldn’t. Some vet clinics and hospitals have the facilities to nurse these fragile babies along. They need to be tube fed frequently and kept warm and still. Their movement is restricted to protect their delicate joints and bones. Even then, infection, constipation, and other complications can make life difficult. Even a foal that looks like it is thriving can have a sudden setback. The treatment of a premature foal will take weeks and can be very costly.
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