Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Newborn Foal, Grunting As It Breathes, Acts in Pain

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

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

    Newborn foals that are having difficulty breathing may have fractured ribs as a consequence of birth trauma. Foals that lose the rigidity of their chest wall due to rib fracture are commonly called “flail chest.” In this case, you might actually see the ribs moving in a disjointed, abnormal appearing way.

    Foals that are born very ill or with poor lung function may also grunt with each breath. Foals in this state would be expected to be down and unable to rise. In most cases, their gums color is dull and capillary refill time is slow.


    Regardless, call your vet immediately. Most foals with this finding may need intensive treatment. In some cases, their best chance for survival will be transportation to a hospital for intensive care.

    Talk to your vet about whether you should position the foal on its chest. But be very careful when you do this. Rough handling of the foal could cause ribs to displace, or worsen respiratory function.


    Your vet evaluates the foal’s general health and determines the reason for the signs. Once this is better understood, a treatment direction can be determined. Supplemental oxygen can be very helpful in this situation.

    What Not To Do

    Do not attempt to lift, handle or carry your foal by the abdomen or chest, because this may cause a fractured rib to puncture a lung.

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

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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