Newborns Out of Breath

I'd like to know more about foals who after being delivered, dried, and rubbed well, quit breathing in 10-20 minutes. We have done resuscitation by blowing into their nostrils and pumping their rib cages, and have rubbed them vigorously. The foals were both fine, with no further problems--it was just scary. We worried if we hadn't been there to revive them, would they have started breathing again on their own?     via e-mail

 What you have described is referred to as neonatal apnea. This is commonly associated with factors not associated with the respiratory system such as infection, central nervous system disorders, hypothermia, prematurity, or neonatal maladjustment.

While in utero, the foal is in a hypoxic state or a state where the levels of oxygen in the blood are low. If during the foaling process there is a period of asphyxia (inadequate intake of oxygen) from a dystocia or premature placental separation, the foal has the potential to be compromised. Some of the foalings where asphyxia occurs appear uncomplicated. One scenario that would appear to be a normal foaling would consist of a normal to rapid delivery of the foal with the placenta passed either with the foal or very shortly after foaling. Foals such as yours are only mildly affected and a combination of mouth to nose resuscitation and manual stimulation are enough to "jump start" the foal to begin breathing again and allow the foal to properly oxygenate his system.

Unfortunately, not all cases are resolved as simply as yours. Despite repeated efforts to stimulate the foal, the periods of apnea (no breathing) continue. These foals need to be treated aggressively with oxygen, fluids, intravenous antibiotics, and other therapies as indicated by the foal's condition. Would your foal have started breathing on his own if you weren't there? The foal might have started to breathe again only to have another apneic episode occur and eventually the spontaneous respirations would cease.

This demonstrates the importance of having someone present at the time of foaling. Not only should someone be available to provide assistance delivering the foal, but also to assess and monitor the foal in the neonatal period.

For more information on resuscitating foals, see article #3785 at

About the Author

Pete Sheerin, DVM, Dipl. ACT

Pete Sheerin, DVM, Dipl. ACT, is a practitioner at the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.

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