I posted this on Facebook as well, but feel its an important enough issue that I need to share this everywhere I can. Its long.... As those of you who breed may be aware, Arabian mares are the breed most likely to experience foal rejection. This has a wide variety of presentations from ambivalence towards the foal, anxiety when faced with nursing, and all the way up to savage, violent behavior directed at the foal. The reasons this happens is unknown. Throughout the years, any number of techniques have been used: Physical restraint from twitches, hobbles, tying forming "nursing stocks" where the mare is contained in a manner that the foal can safely nurse. Chemical restraint with sedatives of any number of types. Worst case scenarios end up with the foal being removed from the mare and being raised as an orphan.
I'd like to share a technique I learned from several fellow American Association of Equine Practitioner members that is essentially painless, rapid and according to those I've discussed it with, nearly 100% effective with the mare fully accepting the foal and displaying normal maternal behavior. We just welcomed our Antham x Bunny filly yesterday morning and experienced this first hand, hence wanting to share the experience so someone else doesn't have to go through the stress and anxiety that we did. Obviously, as a veterinarian, my access to chemical intervention is much easier than for the general horse owning population. The brilliance with this technique, is that it involves non-controlled drugs that can be administered intramuscularly and that many of you may already have in your veterinary drug stock (especially if you're breeding larger numbers of mares).
Here's the story. Bunny had an utterly explosive labor and delivery. Literally, from the first signs of restlessness to a foal fully delivered was about 25 minutes. Initially she showed all the typical maternal behaviors: nickering, licking the foal, encouraging her to stand. Once the foal started rooting to nurse however, the tables turned. She never became "naughty" about it, but would actively avoid the foal if any motion was made towards her udder. After about 4 hours, I finally sedated (Ace with a little Rompun) her, administered oxytocin and used a twitch to milk her out a bit and relieve the obvious pressure on her bag. I bottle fed the foal that colostrum so at least we had something in. After the bottle, the foal tried nursing and as long as I was there to hold Bunny, she would allow nursing. The filly latched on and did very well. Again, as long as someone was there to provide restraint. We have a camera set up where I can log-in and watch from my phone. I had to go to work, so they were left to their own devices. No luck. I came home at lunch, restrained the mare with simply a shoulder skin twitch that was relaxed once the foal latched. So I knew the foal was at least getting something. She remained bright and active. Back to work and I literally poured over my treatment options. Physical restraint was not going to be an option with my work schedule, I hate having to sedate, etc, etc. Options generally include things like fluphenazine and reserpine; these are anti-psychotic medications and fluphenazine in particular has been associated with mental breaks. Acepromazine requires administration every 6 hours. Alprazolam (Xanax) is currently in favor but can take a couple days to take effect.
The technique I ended up using literally worked in 30 minutes and Bunny has been a perfect mother ever since. Essentially I put her back through "labor". Essentially hitting CTRL-ALT-DEL and resetting the hormonal cascade that leads to maternal behavior. I administered Estrumate (Lutalyse can also be used). I've done this technique on client mares before and have used Lutalyse. It seems to work faster, but the mare has more side effects and is more uncomfortable with it. Estrumate worked just as well, but took about 15 minutes longer. These drugs are prostaglandin, which is the pain hormone. Once the mare is sweaty, I administer oxytocin. Oxytocin results in uterine contraction and milk let-down, but is also the "love hormone". It stimulates emotional closeness and bonding. One other suggestion is to wipe the mare's sweat onto the foal for additional scent bonding. With all of the mares I've treated, within 20-30 minutes they all are nickering, licking the foal and acting like normal mammas. With Bunny, we went from having to hold the mare for nursing and nervous pacing ambivalence to a completely devoted mare that is very protective and constantly nickering at her baby. Its been smooth sailing ever since!!!
So keep this in mind, that all hope is not lost if you ever experience foal rejection. Feel free to contact me for further details. And PLEASE discuss it with your veterinarian should the need ever arise; a lot of practitioners don't know about it!
- TripleHFarm, ladycascabel, ShadowfaxArabians and 22 others like this