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Dummy Foal Syndrome: What Can Be Done?By Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 3, 2015

In moderate to severe cases, dummy foals are relatively easy to spot. Even the milder cases that can be tricky to initially diagnose usually become increasingly abnormal within a few days of birth. Affected foals progress from being near normal to losing affinity to their dam, having a decreased suckle reflex, wandering, sleeping very deeply, and developing an array of central nervous system abnormalities such as facial spasms, seizures, blindness, and coma. Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your foal with neonatal maladjustment syndrome, what can you do?

“Foals with neonatal maladjustment syndrome require intensive medical treatment as soon as possible to ensure a swift and complete recovery,” advises Peter Huntington, B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc., director of nutrition at Kentucky Equine Research in Australia.

Aggressive management for dummy foals include the following:

  1. Correctly and quickly diagnose the foal as a dummy, ruling out “other” causes of illness in foals (e.g., infectious, toxic, congenital, developmental, or metabolic disorders);
  2. Identify and treat any concurrent diseases or conditions, such as septicemia, a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria in the bloodstream;
  3. Control seizures in moderate to severe cases (with valium, phenobarbital, etc.);
  4. Provide antibiotics to prevent secondary infections;
  5. Ensure the foal receives at least 15% of its body weight in milk every 24 hours. In recumbent foals, this usually involves feeding through a nasogastric tube every 1-2 hours;
  6. Medications to decrease swelling of the brain (e.g., mannitol, dimethylsulfoxide);
  7. Natural vitamin E (Nano-E from KERx) to boost antioxidant support and combat reactive oxidative species; and
  8. Supportive care to minimize skin sores, stomach ulcers, and muscle wastage in recumbent or stuporous foals.

Although intensive, the above steps usually result in recovery of most foals—between 80 and 90%—within 1-5 days.

“More severely affected foals, those with uncontrolled seizures, are more at risk of dying than milder cases. Overall, most foals recover uneventfully and no long-term effects on growth or development typically occur, especially with adequate nursing care,” assures Huntington.