What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Newborn Foal, Mare will Not Allow Foal to Nurse


A recently foaled mare that will not allow her foal to nurse may be inexperienced, could be in pain or could be truly rejecting her foal.

Mares reject foals for a variety of reasons including excessive stress around foaling time and separation during the early formative period. In some cases, there is no obvious reason. Foal rejection is more common in mares with their first foal (maiden mares). Once rejection behavior starts, your first responsibility is to prevent injury to the foal and to handlers.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

First off, it is vitally important to understand that a mare needs quiet time to bond with her foal, so always allow that as long as you dont think the foal is in danger.

If you think the mare is going to hurt the foal, and if you feel confident to do so, then you should restrain the mare until you can get help.

You can get a quick sense of whether the mare's discomfort could be playing a role. Assess the mare's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) on Post-Foaling Mare, paying particular attention to the udder and teats. Be sure to use a good light when examining the area. Is there a difference between left and right udder halves? Is the milk a normal appearance when stripped out in your hand? Does the mare resist your handling of the udder because of discomfort? Does the flank and area around the udder and belly appear and feel normal?

You can try to help, but if you are inexperienced, you are likely to make the situation worse. You can attempt to restrain the mare to allow the foal to nurse. You should apply pressure to her when she is aggressive towards the foal, and relax pressure when she accepts the foal. Always use caution to avoid personal injury. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not leave a foal alone with a mare that has shown obvious aggression toward it. Mares can savage foals and even kill them.

Do not attempt to help if you are not experienced or lack confidence. There is a real opportunity to make the situation worse or be injured.

your vet's role

Your vet will seek to rule out physical causes by carefully examining the mare and foal, and witnessing the behavior. Sometimes an experienced handler restraining the mare for a short time can encourage her to accept the foal. Failing this, vets may provide a variety of treatments to encourage the mare to accept the foal. Currently, there are improved methods for fostering foals using hormones like prostaglandin and oxytocin.

It may take quite an effort to "change a mare's mind" about her foal, but it is absolutely worth the effort. Raising a foal as an orphan is labor-intensive and should be a last resort. In the event that fostering fails though, your vet will have no choice but to provide guidance for how to raise the foal as an orphan.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What treatments have you tried and how did they work?
  • Was the foal examined after birth by a veterinarian?
  • Was an IgG antibody test done on the foal after birth?
  • Does the foal appear bright, alert and responsive?
  • Has the mare had foals before or is she a maiden?
  • When did your mare have her foal?
  • Has your foal ingested life-saving colostrum yet?
  • Have you examined your mare's udder and milk to ensure there is not something causing pain that migh
  • Is the mare aggressive toward the foal or just resistant to having it nurse?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP