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Horse Pregnancy Check
 By Winniefield Park   •   17th Jul 2018   •   2,136 views   •   0 comments


I was recently able to watch an ultrasound examination of a mare thought to be in foal. The mare was sedated, and while guiding the scope to the area of the reproductive organs, the vet explained what we were seeing on the screen of the ultrasound machine. The gray-scale image was confusing to my untrained eye, but the vet pointed out what he was looking for. The mare being examined was older, suspected in foal, but had cysts. The cysts, explained the vet, were a different shape than the tiny amniotic vesicle that indicated a foal was in production. Cysts, he said, are common in senior mares, and usually not a great concern. He confirmed however that one circle was the shape and diameter to suggest the mare was in foal.

There are a few reasons why you want to know early if a mare is in foal or not. Caring for a mare properly is important for keeping both it and the foal healthy. If the foal is wanted, it provides an idea of how far the pregnancy is advanced and when the foal might be born. This is done by measuring the size of the fertilized egg, about two weeks after the mare was bred. If a foal is not wanted, this is the time when an injection of prostaglandin, should end the pregnancy. This will have to be confirmed by another test within a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, there are other methods of safely ending a very early pregnancy.

While there are home tests that can be purchased, these may not be as accurate as having a veterinarian do the check. It costs more for a vet check, but a lot less than an unwanted foal, or perhaps missing out on the breeding season if the goal is to have a foal.

Some veterinarians will feel the size, tone and shape of the reproductive organs and determine if there is an amniotic sac where a fetus is developing. This is done by reaching through the rectum and feeling the uterus. And, some vets use an ultrasound machine. The wand of the machine is guided through the rectum, and the ultrasound waves bounce off the internal organs, providing a picture on a computer screen of what is inside the uterus. By measuring the amniotic vesicle, it’s possible to determine how far along the mare is. And if there isn’t an amniotic vesicle, it can be confirmed that the mare is not in foal.

Both of these internal tests need to be done carefully, usually with the mare sedated. The mare can be injured internally if the veterinarian is not skilled in the procedure.

There are blood tests too, that can be done, but these have their drawbacks. If a mare loses a foal later in the pregnancy, a blood test may show that the mare is still pregnant. But both urine and blood testing is useful if it’s not possible to do a manual or ultrasound check, such as a with very skittish mare, or a pony that’s very tiny.

Pregnancy tests can be done about two weeks following a breeding. By this time, the amniotic vesicle will be visible on an ultrasound and the mare will have started producing hormones that can be detected in her blood and urine by a veterinarian. Home tests need to be done later, at about six to eight weeks. Whatever method is used, it’s then up to the owner to make sure the mare gets the care she needs to produce a healthy foal, and stay healthy herself.
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