Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal Stillborn or Died Shortly after Birth

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

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

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

  • If the mare has also retained her placenta for longer than 3 hours.
  • If the mare seems ill, or shows colic signs beyond mild uterine cramping.
  • Questions coming up around foaling should usually be discussed right away with your vet.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • A post-mortem exam (necropsy) may help to identify the cause of death.

You walk out to check your pregnant mare that is due to foal, only to find that she has foaled and the newborn is dead.

Why did this happen? What should you do now? How can you manage the mare going forward? How can you prevent this in the future? Foals that are born dysmature, had a difficult birthing, or that were ill in-utero from a variety of causes, may die during or shortly after birth.


Assess the mare’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam on Post-Foaling Mare (WHE), paying particular attention to her attitude, appetite, heart rate, gum (mucous membrane) color, and temperature. Look for any evidence of trauma especially of the vulvar area, possibly due to a difficult birthing process (dystocia).

Evaluate the placenta if she has shed it, or take note if she hasn’t. A placenta is considered retained if it has not been shed within 3 hours of birthing. A retained placenta can cause a life-threatening infection. Consider the foal: is the foal lying beneath the fetal membranes? Does it look as it tried to rise, or moved at all? How long do you think the foal has been dead?

You may choose to simply leave the dead foal in the stall or enclosure until your vet can examine it. If you choose to remove the foal, be careful of the protective mare and place it far enough away that it is out of the mare’s sight. It needs to be kept in a cool place, away from wildlife and dogs, until your vet can perform a post-mortem examination. Do the same for the placenta.

Monitor the mare carefully until your vet arrives. Keep in mind that certain infections like EHV (Equine Herpes Virus or Rhino) can result in sick, weak newborns. Keep other pregnant mares away from the area until your vet has ruled out these agents.


Determining a cause for this is important as it can affect your mare’s reproductive future. Contagious disease like EHV-1 can affect your other mares. Your vet evaluates the mare and placenta, and may perform a post-mortem exam on the foal. Once those things are done, they may recommend other diagnostic tests.

What Not To Do

Do not bury or dispose of the foal or placenta. Your vet will want to examine both to try to determine a cause for the foal's death.

Do not expose other horses to the mare, placenta or dead foal.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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