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


Foal or Newborn, Milk Draining out Nostrils


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.

This sign can also just be seen in foals that are very weak, for a variety of reasons.

  • 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.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

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's role

Your vet will assess the foal's general health to determine the nature of the condition causing the swallowing problem. They can roughly assess the formation of the palate and rule out cleft palate through physical exam. They may recognize this as a sign of generalized weakness. Since weak newborns easily succumb to infections, they may recommend aggressive diagnostics and treatment.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How is the foal's appetite and attitude?
  • Did the foal stand and nurse normally after foaling?
  • Was there any difficulty or delay in the birthing process?
  • When was the foal born?
  • What are the results of the foal exam?
  • Is the problem consistent or inconsistent?
  • Is the problem improving with time or not?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP