Fetotomy in the Mare

Even if a fetus is dead before foaling is finished, the time spent manipulating the fetus is still critical. If you are far from an equine hospital where a Cesarean section could be performed to extract the fetus, a fetotomy might be your best option to save the life and future fertility of the mare.

"The aim of a fetotomy is to rapidly decrease the size of a fetus such that safe extraction can proceed," said Grant S. Frazer, BVSc, MS, Dipl. ACT, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University, at the Hagyard Bluegrass Equine Symposium, held Oct. 21-23, 2004. "This avoids the stress and injury that follows from prolonged manipulations and extractions."

Repeated vaginal entry and internal maneuvers only serve to traumatize the birth canal and increase the level of bacterial contamination," noted Frazer. He added, "Repeated in and out arm movements are contra-indicated as the mucous membranes of the mare's vagina and cervix are easily abraded." The scar tissue created during the healing process can inhibit the mare's fertility later in her life.

"Most of the unsatisfactory results that are attributed to fetotomy are actually due to lack of experience and poor technique," said Frazer. "Correctly designed instruments must be available, and the procedure should not be resorted to after prolonged attempts at mutation (fetal manipulation).

"Application of copious volumes of lubricant is essential because the mare's genital tract is very sensitive to trauma, and the uterus is easily ruptured," Frazer said. "If the uterus is contracted, the lubricant tends to induce some uterine relaxation and thus creates additional room between the uterus and the fetus."

Once the cutting wire has been threaded around the fetal part to be amputated, sufficient tension is applied to the wire to confirm that it is not crossed or kinked, Frazer explained. "The veterinarian must ensure that the head of the fetatome (cutting wire) is in the correct position, then cover it with a hand, while using the other arm to hold the fetatome securely during the cutting procedure," he said.

"An assistant helps to start the cut with slow, short to-and-fro arm movements, continued Frazer. "Once the wire is seated, the length of the arm movements is increased, as is the amount of pressure. Long strokes spread the wear on the wire and keep it from overheating, thus reducing the likelihood that the wire will break. One or two well-placed fetotomy cuts can dramatically shorten the intervention time. It should be remembered, however, that complete fetotomy can generally be expected to result in severe trauma to the genital tract, even if performed by a skillful and experienced operator."

Frazer concluded, "Fetotomy definitely has its place as a viable alternative to Cesarean section in the management of selected equine dystocia cases, irrespective of the value of the mare--provided that the veterinarian is an experienced obstetrician."

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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