SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: Foal Health 101

How much do you know about foal health? How much can a healthy mare impact a healthy foal? When do you wean a foal? HOW do you wean a foal? Our friends at SmartPak tried to answer these questions (and a lot more!) in their Foal Health 101 video. Check it out!

In this Ask the Vet video, Dr. Lydia Gray and SmartPaker Dan go crazy for baby horses… and baby donkeys! Watch as they discuss all aspects of foal health, such as hooves and joints, general wellbeing, and vaccinations for newborns and weanlings.

If you’re not in a place to watch the video, you can get read the full transcript below.

DAN: “I wonder if SmartPak in general, not specifically “Ask the Vet,” could do a ‘foal 101′ video? For example, when to do what, i.e. vaccinations, farrier work, and wellness on a foal.” This also, of course, got a lot of questions and comments.

DR LYDIA GRAY: We don’t even–

DAN: Any time you mention foals, it’s always going bring in a lot of comments. So from Breakfast Foods, which also, fantastic name–

DR LYDIA GRAY: I love that.

DAN: “I’ve been interested in becoming a vet, so I’ve always loved to learn new information about foals.” And then Lauren said, “I just want to see cute babies.” Lauren, I–

DR LYDIA GRAY: Baby horses, especially, like, miniature baby horses. Baby donkeys.


Maybe the videographer will put a baby donkey picture in.

DAN: Oh, I think we can find a baby donkey photo.


DR LYDIA GRAY: They’re the cutest!

DAN: –baby foals, I agree with. And I agree that we should absolutely do a foals 101 video.

DR LYDIA GRAY: OK. All right. So this will be our start, and we’ll kind of gather up the information from this, and then move on.

DAN: I was kind of hoping there was going to be a foal waiting in here when we came in today.

DR LYDIA GRAY: Oh! Sorry. So Sorry. So foals 101. Oh, gosh. This is a huge, huge topic, and might take more than one video. So I put everything together, and I’m trying to condense it down to what we can cover in three minutes here.

I think of foals as sort of before they’re on the ground. So mare care, and then the first 30 days or so of the foal’s life up to weaning, and then life of the weanling.


DR LYDIA GRAY: You know, so those discrete segments all have special veterinary medical or preventive wellness care needs and nutrition, and everything. So I guess the first piece of advice is, or whatever included in a foal 101 video is make sure your mare care is up to date.

So that includes vaccinations and deworming, because the mare’s health influences the foal’s health. You know, that first milk, the colostrum. What the scientists or the veterinarian would say, the passive transfer of maternal immunity or immunoglobulins is really important. And that comes from having your mare vaccinated against common diseases early.

DAN: OK. So make sure mother is in good health–

DR LYDIA GRAY: And that she’s at a good weight. I mean, if she’s thin or fat, then she’s either not going to make a healthy baby or be able to feed a healthy baby or have foal out well. So you want to have a good five-ish body condition score.

And I’ll say this so I don’t forget it is if you’re breeding a mare or you’ve got a young horse, you’ve got to have your veterinarian involved. There are so many pieces that are a part.

Like for example, when the mare foals, the veterinarian needs to come out within the first 12 to 24 hours and do a wellness foal care. Whether you see a problem or not, the vet needs to evaluate that foal for, did he or she stand up? Is the nursing going on? Is the cognition all there? Is there a heart murmur?

Do the eyes look good? Is there a patent urachus, umbilical? I mean, there’s so many things to look at. You need an expert who can quickly do a physical exam and make sure that everything is OK.

As an owner, your job is to make sure the foal has and continues to have, because things change quickly, straight legs or standing completely on their hoof. They’re nursing, they’re sleeping, they’re running. They’re doing all good baby horse things or baby donkey things. There’s so many things that can go wrong, that if your foal is not doing those things, then contact your vet.

Obviously, this is like the last topic, behavior. You need to do a lot of reading if you’re going to breed a mare, have a foal, have a young horse, because there’s a lot to know.

I don’t want to get into specifics as far as when you should do what, but I did read on a farrier’s website that I trust, he likes to be out there looking at horse feet and legs and trimming on them in the first month. So 30 days.

And he likes to come every 30 days to make sure that things are progressing correctly, because there could be angular limb deformities, flexural limb deformities, contracted tendons that if they’re handled early, if you’re on top of them, you can make them without– the horse can end up having a useful, productive life and be healthy and sound without surgical intervention.

DAN: So the farrier likes to come out early to do any foundational work on the feet that could be impacting any of the upper limbs.

DR LYDIA GRAY: And examine them. This farrier said, I like to watch the foal walk and make sure they’re landing heel to toe and the legs carrying straight, and there’s nothing funky going on. So this guy stays on top of it.

You know, she asked I think about vaccinations and deworming. There are protocols. Your veterinarian will help you develop the protocol that is right for you, because it differs. Was the mare vaccinated ahead of time or not? That’s a huge difference. Where you live geographically, the foal’s risk of exposure to certain diseases.

The type and brand of vaccine used. All that depends on what vaccines are given when and which intervals, because with foals or the first time a horse gets a vaccine, you don’t give just one. One’s a booster. We have to start the series of one, two, or three. Yeah.

And nutrition, it’s important to feed the foal right early. When to begin creep feeding. What do you creep feed with? Having the foal’s body condition score of five is important, because they get too heavy or they get too much sugar in their diet, and then you run into developmental, orthopedic disease and other problems. Boy, there’s a lot of stuff.

DAN: There’s a lot.

DR LYDIA GRAY: There’s a lot. There’s a lot.

DAN: So a lot of it sounds like one, you know, your own horse’s condition, the mare’s condition, then the foal’s condition. When it’s born, if there’s any sort of deformities or things that have to be–

DR LYDIA GRAY: Know normal.

DAN: Yep.

DR LYDIA GRAY: And then when to call the vet for abnormal. But your veterinarian will need also to make assessments. We don’t wait that first 12 to 24 hours. You get the vet out and make sure things are OK, because things might look good to you that are not on track, and you want to jump on them early.

DAN: OK. And especially, so work with your vet closely for finding out all those other vaccinations and things of that nature, depending on your area and your horses’ health.


DAN: Well, if you guys have any other questions about foals, make sure to send them our way. And if you have any photos, please send them. You can send them directly to me. It’s OK. What?

DR LYDIA GRAY: Baby donkeys.

DAN: Oh, and baby donkeys.


We’re into all of that, and I will definitely get working on that foals 101 for you.

You can find this and more great information on SmartPak’s Horse Health Library