A Good Start

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A constipated foal’s best friend:?an enema. Many foals are constipated during the first day of life, as they often have trouble passing the dark, hard balls of meconium (the material in the intestines). Passing them may be uncomfortable and the foal may strain a lot, or even become colicky if he cannot evacuate them. An enema may help until the colostrum (which acts as a laxative) has a chance to work its way through.

The simplest means to give an enema is to use a human adult enema kit, which can be purchased at a drug store. If you don’t have one on hand or cannot obtain one, you can use a couple drops of liquid Ivory soap in a cup or two of warm water, or a half cup of mineral oil added to the warm water. The soap or mineral oil will help lubricate the hard fecal balls to make them easier to pass, and the warm water will help soften them.

Gently squirt the mix into the rectum with a regular enema tube (put carefully into the rectum a few inches) and squeeze bulb. If you don’t have one, you can squirt it into the rectal opening with the nozzle of a large syringe. Give it slowly and gently.

Be aware that the foal’s rectum is delicate and easily torn. To minimize the chance for injury, have someone hold the foal with one arm around his chest and one around his buttocks, to restrict movement. After putting the fluid in, hold a finger over the anus for a few minutes to keep the enema in as long as possible. Then, when the foal squirts the fluid out, it will hopefully bring some of the hard balls with it.

An enema should be given as soon as the foal shows signs of discomfort. If he continues to have trouble passing bowel movements, another enema may be given an hour or so later. But don’t overdo it: Too many enemas can lead to irritation of the rectum, which in itself may cause a foal to strain. If he still has problems after two enemas, consult your vet.

Pepto Bismol for diarrhea or ulcers. A foal with diarrhea, or even a mild tummy-ache from ulcers, can often benefit from an oral dose of Pepto Bismol—which can be repeated every hour or so if necessary. Kaopectate can also be used for diarrhea. Either of these medications can soothe and slow the gut to ease the diarrhea and discomfort in a bout with scours. Foal ulcers can often be helped by Pepto Bismol because it coats the gut lining and eases the pain. These are safe medications for foals, and the usual adult human dose (2 tablespoons—which is equivalent to 30 cc.) is about right for a foal.

The easiest way to administer these medications is in a couple of 15 cc syringes, or measured into a well-washed deworming syringe. Push the plunger a little at a time so you don’t gag him, and give him time to swallow each squirt. Pepto Bismol is pleasant-tasting and the foal will usually swallow it without much resistance.

To prevent a sore bum and hair loss:?petroleum jelly, mineral oil or baby oil. These can be applied to a foal’s buttocks if he gets diarrhea during the mare’s first heat cycle (which often occurs 7 to 9 days after foaling, but can occur any time from 4 to 20 days after), or at any time he suffers from scours. Petroleum jelly or mineral oil can prevent irritation and burning from acidic feces. Gently wash the liquid feces off, dry his hindquarters, then apply the soothing lubricant to keep subsequent dribbles from sticking to his hair and skin.

How tall will he be? Sometimes it’s hard to guess how tall a foal will be when he grows up. But you can estimate his future height by measuring his legs. The foal’s legs are quite long in proportion to the rest of his body size and depth; his cannon bones and pasterns are nearly as long as they will be when he grows up. His forearms and hoofs, by contrast, do a lot more growing.

A mature horse measures about the same from the back of his fetlock joint to his elbow as he does from his elbow to the top of his withers. Thus one way to guess a foal’s eventual height is to use a string or flexible tape measure to determine the distance from fetlock to elbow. Then measure that same distance up from the elbow. The usual rule of thumb is to add a couple inches to arrive at an approximate mature height at the withers, assuming normal withers.

To help you measure most accurately on the foal, use the ergot at the back (bottom) of the fetlock joint for one end of your string or tape measure, and the dimple at the elbow for the other end. (Not familiar with that last item??On the outer surface of the elbow joint, right below the big, rounded triceps muscle that comes down from the back part of the shoulder, there is a small dimple. At the lower edge of this pit, on the bony part of the elbow, you can feel a small bony protrusion about the size of a pea.) Place one end of the string on the dimple and the other end at the ergot of the fetlock, then raise the lower end above the withers while keeping the other end of the string on the elbow. This height plus 2 inches is the approximate adult height.