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Common Foal Problems

Common foal problems, including foal diarrhea, also known as scours, and entropion, are just a few of the horse ailments you may encounter when caring for foals. Read more about these conditions below. 

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Foal Leg Abnormalities 

If you've ever bred horses you are probably aware that not all foals are born "Picture Perfect". However, when I say, "common foal problems" I don't mean to imply that it is common to have a foal with a problem.

Common foal problems can include foal diarrhea, horse tendons and entropion

When the foaling season is about to begin, there are dozens of magazine articles that discuss problems involving foaling and raising the new foal. Rarely do these horror stories mention that the majority of foals are healthy, happy, normal little equine kids. However, if the foal does have an abnormality, let's discuss those that are the most common.

Probably the most obvious problems involve leg abnormalities. These can include contracted tendons, toeing out, toeing in, over at the knees (bucked knees), back at the knees (calf knees) and cow hocks.The youngster in the above picture is an example of a foal with bucked knees.

Contracted Tendons

Contracted tendons, unless they are very severe, will usually correct themselves and simply require patience by the owner. As the foal exercises it will stretch the tendon and gradually develop a normal leg. Many times it will be beneficial to gently stretch the afflicted leg several times a day.

If it is a severe contraction, Veterinary action may be necessary. Always contact your Veterinarian for an expert opinion. A severe contraction may require a brace or surgical intervention.       

Toeing In or Toeing Out

As with contracted tendons, a moderate amount of toeing in or out can be corrected by a competent Farrier.

 Toeing out is far more common than toeing in and is easier to correct. Again, contact your Veterinarian if the deviation is severe.

Common Foal Knee Problems

Being over (bucked) at the knee generally corrects itself in a young foal and often goes hand-in-hand with a contraction. If it’s severe, Veterinary help may be needed. 

However, being back (calf kneed) at the knee is more serious and may not correct itself. Fortunately, it is much more rare. It is a condition that puts a strain on the tendon.  Toeing out is probably the problem that is the most common. 

If the problem is not severe, it will often correct itself or can be helped by corrective trimming of the hoof. A common mistake is to surgically correct the condition too early. You have a limited amount of time to allow Mother Nature to do her thing.

If it has not corrected itself by the time the foal is three months of age, surgery (called periosteal stripping) may be necessary. Toeing in can also occur, but it is less common. I’ve seen several cases where the surgery was done when the foal was quite young and was not accorded the opportunity to correct on its own.

Often the hair around the surgical site will grow back white, making it obvious to a prospective buyer that there had been a problem. Even though the problem was minor and corrected, it can be detrimental to a future sale. Give Mother Nature a chance to correct any problems before rushing in to surgery.

Dummy Foals

If your Veterinarian says that you have a “Dummy Foal” he is not telling you that your foal is stupid or that he will be dumb forever. The condition is a developmental one and is usually very brief. He simply has not reached the development that is normally attained by the time a foal is born. 

That’s not to say that it isn’t serious and can be ignored. Time will not take care of the problem. A Dummy Foal’s biggest problem is that he does not understand the nursing process. He is hungry and may substitute water for mares’ milk. Hang a water bucket high enough so that the mare can reach it, but the foal cannot. Then milk out the mare and teach him to drink milk from a bottle.

If he does not understand the sucking process, it may be necessary to feed him with a syringe for a day or two. He will gradually learn to nurse from the bottle and eventually from his Mother. Generally, within two to four days, he will be eating normally.

Read more about Dummy Foals here.

Diarrhea or Constipation

Diarrhea and constipation are opposing conditions and both will need proper attention.

Left unattended they can be serious conditions in a newborn foal. Diarrhea can be caused by several abnormalities and you should consult your Veterinarian as soon as you notice the condition. More about this common foal problem here.

Foal diarrhea is a sommon foal problem.

Usually it is a temporary problem that can be corrected with medication. However, left untreated it can be life threatening. The same applies to constipation in a new foal. Your Veterinarian will probably recommend an enema. 

Giving a newborn an enema has its dangers, so if you’ve never experienced the procedure it might be safer to not have it done by a novice.  The Fleet enemas for human babies are available in Drug Stores. It is a good idea to keep them on hand as it is one of the most common foal problems

Eyelids - Entropion

A condition that is not very common is called Entropion. However, if you raise enough foals, you will experience it. It is a turning in of the eyelid so that the skin is touching the cornea. This can cause damage to the cornea.

Fortunately, a fairly simple surgical procedure will correct the problem. Your Veterinarian can place a couple of stitches in the eyelid and this temporary surgical correction will resolve the problem.

Education Is The Best Prevention

I hope you've learned something here that proves useful to you in your foaling barn. Even if you never have need of this information, it's still good to be well-informed.

In health and during trials, your young foal needs the security of a safe, comfortable halter. 

Experienced handlers know the best option is the Foal to Yearling Halter available here. 

More Information About Raising Healthy Foals

First aid for foals

About tail chewing

Wound care - essential information to know

Common foal problems

Foal diarrhea and what you can do

You are invited to visit the home page for Foal To Yearling Halters here.