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Foals can be affected by diseases and conditions in the same way to adults; however, the critical difference is the speed at which conditions progress. Foals deteriorate rapidly from looking a bit low, to going "off suck" and collapse within hours. It is crucial foals are monitored regularly, especially within the first few days of life.

The Newborn Foal

We recommend that you have your mare and foal examined after foaling. The timing of this examination will vary depending on a number of factors. Be aware that within the first 6 hours of life it is critical that:
  • the mare passes the entire placenta;
  • the foal suckles colostrum from the mare; and
  • the foal passes its meconium (black, tarry faeces).

If any of the these events is in doubt, or your foal appears weak, disorientated or abnormal in any other way, please ring us as a matter of urgency.  We may be able to give you advice over the telephone, but it is always better to alert us early of a potential problem.

Foals will usually try to stand within 15-45 minutes, be standing successfully within one hour and be nursing at 2-3 hours after birth.  It is true that some foals are slow to stand and suck; but their energy reserves deplete very quickly, so a visit to give them colostrum for that vital energy and immunity is always sensible if there is a delay. Foals will nurse often and sleep in between. Foals need 1-2L of colostrum within the first 6 hours, They feed little and often, taking in ~250mls per hour, over several small feeds. The foal stomach is small, so if the foal is not nursing, they need to be fed 1-2 hourly.

The first sign of a weak foal is often one that is going "off suck". This can be difficult to recognise as foals will often look like they are sucking without actually taking any milk.  Checking the mare's udder is useful: it should never be firm to the touch if your foal is nursing appropriately. A foal that has little or no ability to suckle will not be able to bottle feed. Attempting to bottle feed is likely to cause aspiration of milk and subsequent pneumonia, rapidly worsening the problems. This is why we will usually pass a stomach tube to give colostrum and milk.

Infections in the foal

Infections in the foal tend to either be faeco-oral in origin; or enter via the umbilicus.  Once the foal is up and sucking, it is useful to treat the umbilical stump to reduce the risk of infections from this route. There are many different ways, but either dipping the stump in a clean jar which contains a fresh chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub) solution, diluted to 0.05%; or simply spray with Alamycin (blue) spray.  Check the umbilicus daily for swelling, heat, pain or discharge; but you should not need to treat the stump repeatedly.

Keeping the foal in a clean environment is important to reduce infection risk by the faeco-oral route. Please make sure you use ample fresh bedding and skip out as often as you can. Straw makes an ideal bedding material.

Infections tend to either affect the gastrointestinal system, often causing diarrhoea (scours); the respiratory system, but foals rarely cough; or the limbs, causing 1 or more swollen joints and lameness. Septicaemia happens very quickly in the foal and is life-threatening. If you are concerned your foal may have an infection, please contact us.

The scouring foal

Frequently, foals will scour (have diarrhoea) at the time of the mare's first heat.  This condition is self-limiting and the foal remains bright and happy, and will continue to suckle well. Usually the diarrhoea is pasty yellow in nature, but can be quite profuse. If this is the case, you may need to use vaseline on the foal's hind legs to stop the scour from sticking to the hair coat and scalding the fragile skin. If the foal appears off colour in anyway, is not nursing as well, or the diarrhoea is very profuse and watery, please arrange a visit. There are other causes of diarrhoea, e.g. rotavirus, which affect young foals. These conditions can cause severe dehydration rapidly, which is life-threatening if untreated.

Limb deformities

Young foals may be born with, or acquire limb deformities. Commonly, newborns foals have mild angular limb deformities or flexural deformities which will improve over the first few days. Foals born early, those with severely angled joints, or very slack tendons may require treatment; and the earlier this is done, the better the outcome.  At our mare and foal examination we will assess any of the problems and instigate appropriate treatment. If you are worried about your foal, then book a visit.


If you have a good worming programme and your mare was wormed regularly throughout foaling, it is unlikely that you will need to start worming your foal before 4-5 months of age.  Tapeworms are not a problem in very young foals, so the first time tapeworming is necessary is after their first grazing season (around October as a weanling). If you are unsure of your mare's worming history; you are keeping the foal on a yard with many other mares and foals; or your foal is not growing as well as it should be, please contact us and we will advise you on the most appropriate wormer to use and start a bespoke programme to suit your individual needs.


Influenza and tetanus vaccinations are started at 5 months of age. If your foal has had a poor start to life; has suffered from previous infections; or you are on an at risk yard, an additional vaccination at 3 months of age may be given. The full vaccination course will still start at 5 months of age; with a second injection at 6 months; and the third injection at 1 year old.


Getting your foal used to handing can be part of the pleasure, as well as making our job much easier in the unlikely event something goes wrong. You should consider using a foal slip from the very early days, and even getting them used to lead ropes, picking feet up, trailers etc. The more you do in the early days, the easier your job is when they grow up!

Our Location

Lingfield Equine Vets is situated in the beautiful Surrey Hills area. We are located just north of Felbridge on the A22 with easy access for all equine transport vehicles.

Contact Us Today
Lingfield Equine Vets
Chester Lodge, Woodcock Hill,
Felbridge, Surrey,
RH19 2RD
(01342) 300008