Weblog: A veterinary view for bloodstock
A lack of oxygen at birth can cause major problems for foalsPICTURE: Newmarket Equine Hospital
Nothing too clever about a birth of a 'dummy foal'
The fields around Newmarket are filling with foals now that we are halfway through the foaling season. With the arrival of foals comes an array of illnesses unique to this age group. One of these conditions is that of the 'dummy foal'.
That is the name given to foals suffering from Neonatal Maladjustment Syndrome, a condtion thought to be caused by a lack of oxygen supply to the foal during birth. It can
affect the foal in a variety of ways depending on the degree of hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Signs can range from the foal being on its feet but unable to suck, to seizuring and coma.
I was called to one of these cases earlier this year. The foal had been a "red bag delivery"; this is when the placenta comes away at the same time that the foal is born rather than being delivered after the foal. The placenta delivers oxygen to the foal whilst it is in the uterus so early placental separation or red bag delivery is always a warning that there may be trouble ahead.
In this case the foal was a little slow from birth, he needed help to stand but once standing he could suck well. The stud staff did a wonderful job of making sure he was helped to stand regularly so we were hopeful that with a little TLC he would soon cope on his own. Unfortunately by 24 hours old
he was still unable to stand on his own and then he started to deteriorate: he could only stand for short periods and was no longer able to suck from the mare; he rapidly deteriorated until he was no longer able to stand at all.
In this collapsed state he could no longer feed himself. All foals are prone to dehydration if they do not drink regularly and milk also provides important nutrition. It now became essential that we maintain the foal's hydration so he was started on intravenous fluids (a drip) and a tube was passed
into his stomach via his nostril through which we could administer milk at regular intervals.
Despite the stud staff and vets best efforts his condition continued to deteriorate until he started to show early signs of seizures. It is essential to treat a foal with seizures straight away as the longer the seizure lasts, the more damage will occur to the brain. So at this stage he was treated with a drug that stopped the seizures and effectively anaesthetised him. He remained in this anaesthetised state for a further twelve hours during which time we kept him on intravenous fluids and continued to
administer milk via the stomach tube. We would turn him over every couple of hours to help prevent him getting pressure sores (like bed sores in humans) and also to help keep his lungs aerated.
Gradually he started to wake up and each time we visited he would be stronger and stronger until he eventually managed to stand up on his own and within a few hours he was nursing from his mother by himself.
Team work between the stud staff and vets is essential when treating these foals, without the dedicated care of the stud staff who ensured that the foal was constantly watched we would not have been able to respond so quickly to the changes in his condition. He has now gone on to make a full recovery and we would not expect his racing career to be anything other than normal. We have known Classic-placed horses that were once dummy foals.