Caring for a Pregnant Mare

To help your pregnant mare deliver a healthy foal, follow these preventative care and feeding guidelines.

| February/March 1999

If Tennyson was right — that "In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love" — well, then, horses and humans aren't so far apart. Horses are what are known as long-day breeders, which means that, with longer days just around the corner, now's the time to start getting your broodmares ready. Good preventive medicine will help to ensure the health of a pregnant mare and increase the likelihood of a live foal.

Good Beginnings

Broodmares should be in good overall health and be up to date on vaccinations, Coggins testing, and deworming. Good dental care will enable your mare to chew her feed properly and maintain her weight throughout pregnancy. For optimal conception rates, broodmares should be neither too thin nor too fat. What's the right weight? You shouldn't see but should easily feel your mare's ribs, and there should be some fat around its tail head. Also, the bones of its pelvis, neck, and shoulders should blend smoothly with the rest of the body. The spring transitional period (time to come into first heat in which ovulation occurs) is longer in thin mares than in mares in good body condition.

Many broodmares have some musculoskeletal or lameness problem that makes them unsuitable for athletic use. Most of these conditions will not affect their ability to carry a foal. However, serious conditions that cause chronic pain will decrease conception rates. And, as the foal grows and the mare's weight increases, some lameness problems may become more severe.

It's important that prospective broodmares have excellent conformation of their external reproductive tract to minimize the possibility of uterine infections. Ideally, the lips of the vulva should be perpendicular to the ground and not slope toward the mare's anus.. A veterinarian can use ultrasound to examine the internal reproductive tract for uterine cysts, which may hinder the mare's ability to conceive and maintain pregnancy. Ultrasound can also be used to image the ovaries and detect follicles and ovarian tumors.

Increased amounts of fluid in the uterus may sometimes be found with uterine infections. If a uterine infection is suspected, a sterile swab can be passed into the uterus to check for telltale white blood cells. A culture can then be performed to identify the infective bacteria and determine which antibiotics will be most effective.

A speculum passed into the uterus can be used to check for urine pooling in the vagina and to assess the cervix. Injuries to the cervix can occur during dystocia (difficult or abnormally painful births) and may not allow the cervix to close properly during subsequent pregnancies, increasing the risk of uterine infections. Biopsies taken from the inside lining of the uterus are often very useful in determining if there is scarring or inflammation of the uterus. Uterine biopsies are graded, enabling your veterinarian to predict your mare's chances of carrying a foal to term.

Eating for Two

For the first two trimesters, the pregnant mare's nutritional requirements are the same as before pregnancy. Mares in early- and mid-gestation can easily maintain their weight on good quality legume (clover or alfalfa) pasture or hay and a trace mineral salt block.

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