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Causes of Colic in Young FoalsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · April 4, 2014

Newborn foals are usually on their feet and nursing within an hour or so of birth. In most cases, the foals continue to nurse frequently, showing a healthy growth pattern through their first month of life. Digestive problems are unusual but may be caused by a variety of conditions, some of which require veterinary care.

Meconium is the blackish, sticky substance in the intestinal tract of newborn foals. Formed as the developing intestine sheds cells that mix with ingested amniotic fluid before the foal is born, the meconium is usually passed soon after the foal begins to nurse. In some cases, however, this tarry material fails to move and instead forms a blockage, causing colic signs.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, meconium impaction was an important cause of colic in foals less than a month old. Enterocolitis, an inflammation of the colon and small intestine, was also a common cause of colic in very young foals.

Among 137 colicky foals included in the study, 75% of those admitted to the clinic survived hospitalization, with better than 90% of discharged foals surviving and maturing to fulfill their intended use. Medical management was successful in resolving most colic cases, with only about 10% requiring surgical intervention. Survival rates were similar regardless of treatment in this group of foals.

Owners and managers should watch young foals for signs of discomfort such as depressed behavior, grinding teeth, lying on the back, straining as though to pass manure, and failing to nurse frequently. A veterinarian should be called to check on foals that show colic signs, as the problem may not resolve without treatment.