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What’s in a foal exam—and why? Ask The Vet

A monthly column by Daniel H. Grove, DVM

Got a question for Dr. Grove? Send your inquiries to, and it could be answered by Dr. Grove in a future column. Dr. Grove is based at West Coast Equine Medicine, headquartered in Fallbrook, Calif., where he lives with his wife Kristen.

by daniel h. grove, dvm F

oaling season is upon us. Foals are dropping left and right. From 12 to 24 hours after birth, it is an excellent

idea to have your newborn evaluated by your veterinarian. This month, I would like to discuss what I do on my new foal exams and why. I do them in the same order every time so that I do not miss anything. I start at the tail and work my way forward. Genitalia: The fi rst area I start with. I

determine the sex of the foal and examine the external genitalia to make sure things are normal. Does the vulva appear normal if it is a fi lly? And on the males, are both testes down? Tetanus Antitoxin: While I am at the tail, I

give a dose of tetanus antitoxin. Regardless of the fact the mare should have been vac- cinated properly before foaling and passed on passive immunity to the foal, it is cheap insurance against a very challenging disease to treat.

Umbilicus: Next I move to the belly but-

ton area. I make sure the umbilical stump appears and palpates normally. Also we check for an umbilical hernia. Finally, a good dipping of the stump in some chlor- hexadine solution is great to prevent infec- tions down the road. Heart and lungs: I now move forward and

listen to the heart and lungs. In the heart, I want to hear a good lub-and-dub—and no extra sounds. There is a small valve in the

heart that is supposed to close just aſt er birth and we can usually pick up on it at this time if it did not. In the lungs, we want nice clean lung sounds with lit le to no moisture. Also, we want to listen for abrupt loud noises that could indicate a fractured rib. Eyes: With the eyes, fi rst we want to make

sure they are clear and we do not have cat- aracts. Next, we make sure the eyelids are normal. A common problem with the eyelids is entropion, where the eyelid is rolled in. This can easily damage the eyeball if not promptly corrected. Mouth: In the mouth we are going to check

for a normal suckle refl ex. This indicates the foal can nurse properly. Next, we feel the roof of the mouth to look for a cleſt palate. Lastly, we look at how the gums will line up and determine if there is a normal bite, under bite, or overbite.

This fi rst milk is crit- ical to the newborn’s immunity for the fi rst few months of life.

Blood: I always like to draw blood and run

a stall side IgG test. This gives us an indica- tion of how good the mare’s colostrum or fi rst milk is and how well the foal absorbed it. This fi rst milk is critical to the newborn’s immunity for the fi rst few months of life. If

Be Performance Ready

it is inadequate, we can correct it with either supplemental colostrum or a plasma trans- fusion. Legs: Now it is time to take a step back and

look at how the legs appear. Do we have ten- don laxity or tendon contraction? Do we have an angular limb deformity? These things can be treated and usually corrected early in life. If leſt without intervention, they may resolve or they may become a permanent deformity, depending upon the specifi c issue. The mare: Aſt er looking at the foal, we

need to look at a few things on mom to make sure she is going to stay healthy and be able to care for the newborn. First, is she produc- ing enough milk? Next, we inspect the pla- centa. If it is incomplete and a piece is leſt in her, she can develop a life-threatening infec- tion than can lead to severe laminitis. Lastly, we look at her vulva and see what kind of damage it may have incurred. Sometimes it appears as the mare barely even foaled and sometimes there are tears and bruising. Some tears can extend all the way into the rectum and manure gets dumped into the vagina leading to infections or decreased future fertility. These are the main things I look for on my

new foal exams. It is a good idea to have it done in an at empt to not only end up with a healthy horse, but one that is going to be functional for what you are raising it for!



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