The first hours of life are critical for the newborn foal. Not only must they make the transition from protected life within the womb to breathing, standing and nursing on their own, they must also pass the meconium. In this article, we discuss this important milestone.
The meconium is the first manure produced by a newborn foal.
After 335-345 days in gestation, amniotic fluid and other material swallowed by the foal in vitro builds up within the rectum and small colon, and must be expelled following birth. It will be firm, black to mustard in colour and may be up to 50cm in length.
As you can imagine, passing the meconium may be uncomfortable for some foals and a degree of straining is considered normal. Often, colts will experience more discomfort than fillies when passing the meconium, due to a narrower pelvis.
However, prolonged straining and other signs may indicate a more serious gastrointestinal problem that requires veterinary intervention.
Difficulty Passing the Meconium
There are several common signs that a foal is having trouble passing the meconium, including:
- The foal is continuing to strain
- The foal is showing signs of colic
- The foal is not nursing
- There have been no bowel movements within six hours of birth
- The meconium appears to have been passed, but no milk faeces have been passed
A foal that’s straining to defecate will stand with their back arched and tail raised. This is very different to a foal that’s having difficulty urinating. In this instance, their back will be concave.
At times, a foal will strain for a prolonged period then begin to show signs of colic; at other times, they will show no signs of straining and suddenly colic. Just as serious is no bowel movements at all. If your foal hasn’t attempted to defecate within six hours of birth, call your veterinarian.
Remember, the meconium is considered passed when the foal begins to produce milk faeces. This manure is vastly different to the meconium — it will be soft and yellow-brown in colour.
Failure to pass the meconium usually occurs as a result of meconium impaction. As the name suggests, faeces have built up within the rectum and small colon, and this impaction is preventing normal defecation. In this situation, one or two enemas may need to be given to the foal.
While enemas can be given at home, you should only administer an enema if you have prior experience in doing so. In most instances, it’s best to call your veterinarian for their support. Incorrectly administered, an enema can do severe damage to the soft tissues of the rectum.