Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal or Newborn, Milk Draining out Nostrils

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If this happens frequently or excessively.
  • Questions coming up around foaling should usually be discussed right away with your vet.

Foals with normal anatomy and function of the soft palate and throat have a physical barrier between the nasal passage and the mouth. But if there is dysfunction or an anatomic problem in this barrier, milk may come out of a foal’s nostrils after nursing.

This observation is commonly associated with “dummy foal syndrome” (Hypoxemic-Ischemic Encephalopathy), in which the swallowing reflex is disrupted because of poor brain and nerve function. Swallowing requires coordinated neuromuscular activity, and neurologic dysfunction often shows up as interference with normal swallowing.

Cleft palate, the incomplete formation of the wall between nasal passage and oral cavity, as well as esophageal blockage or dysfunction can also cause milk to reflux through the nostrils.


If you see this more than once in a newborn foal, assess their general health, paying particular attention to attitude and appetite. Pay particular attention to whether milk comes out of the nose intermittently or each time the foal nurses. Are there other signs of illness or abnormalities? Promptly contact your vet with your findings and concerns.


Your vet will assess the foal’s general health to determine the severity of the condition causing the swallowing problem. They can roughly assess the formation of the palate and rule out cleft palate through physical exam. If nothing else, this may be a sign of generalized weakness. Since weak foals easily succumb to infections, aggressive treatment may be recommended.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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