How to treat colic in foals

It’s the beginning of the year, meaning that foaling season has arrived and baby horses are starting to hit the ground. While this time is exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking and sometimes stressful, as you try to keep all of your mares and their newborn foals in tip-top health. There are many things to consider as you prepare for mares to give birth, including the potential for colic in newborn foals. 

What is colic in newborn foals?

Colic is digestive upset that may occur in the newborn horse for a number of reasons, and it can even occur within just a few hours of birth. 

The primary cause of colic in young foals is meconium impaction, which occurs when foals fail to pass their first manure, i.e. meconium, a black and sticky waste substance (1). Additionally, enterocolitis (inflammation of the small intestine and colon) and hernias are other common causes of colic in newborn horses within a few days of the foal’s birth.

What are signs of colic in foals?

There are multiple clinical signs of colic in newborn foals, and they may even help identify the cause of the colic as well. 

One sign of meconium impaction or retention, is a foal who appears to be straining to defecate, without actually passing any fecal matter. Because of meconium’s tar-like properties, it can cause a blockage in the intestine which leads to colic.

Other symptoms of colic in foals include bloating of the abdomen (generally from gas in the large intestine), distension of the abdomen (due to fluid or gas build up), obvious hernias, and other symptoms of pain such as rolling, teeth grinding, and lethargic behavior (1).

What should I do if I suspect foal colic?

If you are concerned that something might not be quite right with your foal, it is always important to consult your veterinarian to ensure you get the proper treatment plan set up. 

If you are unsure of the cause of the colic, your vet can use digital palpation, ultrasound, and radiography to determine the problem and the best mode of action to solve the issue (1). 

If you suspect meconium retention, giving a mild enema is usually successful in promoting its passage. Oral laxatives or IV fluids may also be potential treatment plans for meconium impaction, but again, always call your veterinarian for professional assistance (1).

How can I prevent foal colic?

As with most health issues in horses, the best option is to take steps to prevent foal colic from occurring in the first place. 

Within the first few hours of birth, keep an eye on your mare and foal to ensure that the foal is nursing. The foal needs to ingest colostrum, the first and very nutrient dense milk, within 12 hours after birth in order to absorb antibodies and immunoglobulins for their immune system (2). The ingestion of this colostrum is also what stimulates the passage of the foal’s meconium. 

Other preventative action includes providing your foal with specialized probiotics. Foals’ digestive and immune systems are not fully developed at birth, and FullBucket’s Foal Kick Start will do just what the name says: it will “kick start” their gut and immune system within the first 24 hours of life. 

FullBucket’s Foal Probiotic Paste can then be used on days 2-7 to help establish a healthy bacterial community to promote proper digestion and immunity. FullBucket’s Foal Starter Kit provides one tube of Foal Kick Start and six tubes of Foal Probiotic Paste so you can ensure their health is off to the best start in their first week of life!

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