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


Newborn Foal, Grunting As It Breathes, Acts in Pain


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.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

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.

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.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Was the foal's birth normal?
  • What exactly do you see?
  • What are the results of the newborn foal exam?
  • Is the foal active and nursing?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

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)

Very Common
more treatments

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP