Fetotomy: A Viable Option for Resolving Dystocia Caused by Nonviable Foals

Fetotomy (the vaginal removal from a mare of a dead fetus in two or more pieces) is a viable option for resolving severe dystocia (difficult birth), with better mare survival rates than those cases involving Cesarean section, according to researchers from the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Teramo in Teramo, Italy.

The goal of fetotomy is to reduce the size of the dead fetus' body so that it can be removed vaginally with minimal damage to the mare's reproductive tract. The researchers noted that one or two appropriately positioned cuts are typically sufficient to enable the veterinarian to remove the body quickly.

The researchers looked at records from 1991 to 2005 of 72 mares that presented with severe dystocia, and on which veterinarians performed fetotomies. Of these mares, 95.8% survived after a fetotomy was performed, compared to the 80-85% survival rate following Cesarean sections reported in two previous studies. Mares bred two to three months following a fetotomy had a mean pregnancy rate of 79.4% at 45 days after breeding. In a population of 124 control mares, 102 (83.3%) became pregnant. Researchers noted the difference in fertility between mares on which fetotomy was performed and control mares was not significant.

"Fetotomy performed by a skilled veterinarian on a nonviable fetus should be considered as a means of quick and safe correction of dystocia that does not necessarily impair short-term fertility in affected mares," the researchers noted.

The study, "Survival rate and short-term fertility rate associated with the use of fetotomy for resolution of dystocia in mares: 72 cases (1991-2005)," was published in the May 15, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Researchers on the study included Augusto Carluccio, DVM, PhD; Alberto Contri, DVM, PhD; Umberto Tosi, DVM, PhD; Ippolito De Amicis, DVM; and Claudio De Fanti, DVM.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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