Is She Ready to Foal Yet?

Q:How do I know if my mare is getting close to her delivery date?

A:This can vary a great deal from mare to mare, but there are some hallmark signs that most mares will show when they are approaching the time of parturition. One is development of the udder, which you’ll recognize as filling, swelling, possibly some subcutaneous edema in the abdominal wall just in front of the udder. When the mare gets quite close (usually within 48 hours), you may see beads of wax develop at the teat ends. Again, mares vary in their timetables: Some mares will have an udder that looks flaccid and empty right up until the day of foaling, at which time it will suddenly become developed and fill up noticeably. If the udder drips milk for more than a few hours before the foal comes, your veterinarian should check the foal because the milk being lost is colostrum (specialized first milk), which is of utmost importance to the foal. If your mare drips milk for a day or two before she foals, it is definitely important to have the foal examined, including with blood work, to make sure the foal absorbs sufficient immunoglobulins from the colostrum.

Other signs of approaching parturition are softening and development of laxity around the vulva and ligaments around the mare’s tailhead. Also watch for nesting behavior. When the mare is entering the initial stages of labor, she will begin sweating, may curl her lip or look at her side, may pace around the stall, and may assume urination posture several times. She may lie down and get up multiple times. Once the water breaks, check your watch and take note of the time. You should see the foal’s forefeet exiting the vulva encased in filmy white amnion within 20 minutes of the water breaking.

Learn more about foal care and read more Q&A with Dr. Sprayberry in our free on-demand webinar: Understanding Foal Care, Take 2!

About the Author

Kim A. Sprayberry, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM

Dr. Kim A. Sprayberry, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, is an internal medicine specialist at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky. When not working with horses, she enjoys pursuits in medical journalism and editing as well as kayaking and American southwest archaeology.

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