Ask the Vet: Foaling Injuries & Complications

Question: I have a maiden mare due late April/early May that is coughing. I have had her scoped, which indicated she has mucus in her lower airway. Can the foal be putting pressure on the lungs and causing this mucus

Answer: In all likelihood, the cough is probably not related to pregnancy. While foals do take up a lot of room in the abdomen, especially during the last three months of pregnancy, this is not a primary cause of respiratory illness. However, if the mare is in a negative energy balance because the growing foal is requiring the majority of her calorie and energy intake, this can lessen the effectiveness of the immune system causing respiratory infection. The fact that she has mucus in her lower airway may or may not mean anything. If the mucus were cultured however, and bacteria were recovered, then you would know if it was a bacterial infection treatable by a course of appropriate antibiotics. Or perhaps the mare has reactive airway obstruction (heaves). Further diagnostics would be needed to determine the origin of the cough.

Question: I have a Palomino mare that had a Cremello foal with blue eyes and light colored skin. All seemed fine until a few days after foaling. The foals eyes turned from blue to a greenish color and now she seems to be blind. I had a veterinarian look at her and he is totally baffled. Could this be genetic or caused by the environment?

Answer: The green tinge to this foal’s eyes is likely secondary to a septic condition where bacteria have gained access to the foal’s bloodstream. This can occur with navel infections or if the mare had placentitis late in her gestation. The green tinge occurs because inflammatory cells have accumulated in the iris and ciliary body secondary to uveitis (inflammation within the eye). The green tinge usually goes away following treatment of the sepsis and most foals that survive sepsis will regain their sight. However, the green eyes are an indication of a much more serious problem.

Question: In the case of a breech delivery, at one point in the foal’s progress through the birth canal, is the umbilical cord pinched so that the foal is no longer receiving oxygen from the mare?

Answer: In a normal birth, the foal’s front feet and nose present first and the umbilical cord is far enough back that it is not contained within the birthing canal until about the time that the head is out. From that point, the foal is born very rapidly and umbilical cord “pinching” is not usually a concern. However, in a breech presentation when the back legs come out first, the umbilical cord is trapped between the mare’s pelvic floor and the foal’s body wall about the time that the fetlocks of the hind feet are visible. During this time, oxygen is not available from the placenta, nor is the foal able to breathe. The mare still has a lot of pushing to do to get the foal out at this point and assistance is warranted. Luckily, breech births are not very common and can be seen when there is early placental detachment and other interruptions in normal fetal development. So, while all foals and mares should have a post-foaling examination by a veterinarian within 24 hours of birth, this may be especially important in foals born breech.