Aoife from XLVets Equine was on-hand to make a very special delivery this month!
Spring for an equine vet means foaling season and a rewarding time for those of us who do stud work as finally, after 11 long months, we get to see the fruits of our labours delivered safely to the outside world.
This time last year while carrying out a late pregnancy scan of a Welsh Section D mare at one of our local studs I located something that made my heart skip a beat – twins!
Now I know everybody likes getting something for free; that’s why “two-for-one” and “BOGOF” offers are so popular. But more isn’t always better, and a case where two can be a problem is when mares conceive twins.
While animals of many species routinely give birth to multiple healthy offspring from one pregnancy, horses are not designed to nourish two foetuses and produce viable twin foals. Double pregnancies put the mare and both foals at risk, and good outcomes are rare.
The most common cause of twinning is from a double ovulation combined with a fertile stallion!
Twins are sometimes carried to term and born healthy with no injury to either the foals or the mare, but this is the exception.
Mares that conceive twins often lose one or both embryos within the first weeks after breeding, and these mares will usually come back into season later in the season.
Some mares will carry twins for several months before aborting halfway through the pregnancy, thereby losing a year of productivity. If both foetuses survive until term, there's a high chance that the mare will have a difficult delivery that can end in the death of one, two, or all three horses.
When twins are born alive, one or both may be undersized and weak, with reduced potential of maturing into productive animals. As with any sick foal, twins often need intensive around-the-clock care.
If the mare was injured during the delivery, she will also need care including treatment for a retained placenta that is common after twin births.
All in all, twin foals are no bargain, and most breeders will ask the vet to reduce the pregnancy to a single embryo if twins are detected during a pregnancy scan.
With my client, the twins had not been detected while the mare was away at stud and now we were a couple of months into her pregnancy. At this stage of pregnancy, any methods used to remove one foetus were much more difficult and may have caused the mare to abort both.
After much discussion on the possible implications of allowing the pregnancy to continue, I strongly advised the client that for the mare’s benefit, it would be better if the pregnancy were ended, but they wanted to ‘let nature take its course’.
I had to admit, I'd only seen one other set of twins born alive and that was in a similar cob mare with a large roomy abdomen and wide pelvis. So with much trepidation we began the long 11 month wait...
Then finally one month ago I got a delightful phone call – Tilly & Lilly were born alive – a huge sigh of relief all round.
Another few weeks on both mother and babies are doing very well frolicking in the Spring sunshine. They've even become famous on social media as well as being interviewed for the local BBC and some newspapers!