XLVets Equine vet Aoife Byrne tells us all about a dramatic delivery she tended to recently.
I really enjoy this time of year. Not just because it's better weather and everywhere I drive is bursting with green lushness, but also for an ambulatory equine vet whose life is spent outdoors, it means that we can finally pack away our winter boots and warm jackets for a few months and the days of sloshing about in muddy fields are over for a few months at least!
It's also a wonderful time of the year for us vets who do stud work as finally after months of waiting we get to see the 'fruits of our labour' quite literally arrive into the world.
Thankfully for the vast majority of mares the foaling process is straightforward and their foals are born amazingly quickly - owners will report popping away from the stable or field for a half an hour and on their return are surprised and delighted to find a healthy foal on the ground!
This was pretty much the case for a client of ours recently with a strong healthy colt born to an experienced mare called Vanessa - it was her ninth foal after all!
All was going well for mother and baby until a few hours after foaling when Vanessa became 'colicky' and I was called out to see her.
I examined her and soon found she had an elevated heart rate and pale mucous membranes.
After I spoke to her owner, I was told that the large colt had been coming with his left fore foot back and the groom had pulled it forward to correct the malpositioning.
I performed a vaginal exam and diagnosed that this hoof had inadvertently made a 10cm tear along Vanessa’s vaginal floor!
Although this sounds horrendous, this wasn’t the primary cause of her discomfort.
A rush to save her life
Her main source of pain was an arterial haemorrhage into the broad ligament of her uterus that I could feel as a large firm mass on the left side of her pelvic cavity.
By measuring certain blood parameters and making a calculation we estimated in Vanessa's case that she had lost more than 20L of blood!
In order to save her life she was admitted to our clinic as an emergency and underwent intensive care for almost a week.
In the first two days she received two blood and two plasma transfusions - altogether 10L along with a special drug to help her body form a stable blood clot and prevent further bleeding.
At one point her red blood cell count dropped to 2. To give some perspective, a normal horse has one between 6-10!
Due to this severe blood loss her milk supply pretty much stopped as her body desperately tried to conserve fluids.
Being such a good mother she still continued to allow her foal to suckle, but his frustration was obvious as he head butted her udder in his search for milk.
To help them both we had to intervene and with time and patience he learned to drink milk replacer from a bowl.
Altogether Vanessa and her foal spent almost two weeks at our clinic, but I’m extremely pleased to report that they went home to their very happy owner who tell me that they’re both doing well and enjoying the May sunshine.
And as a lovely gesture of gratitude to our practice the owner named the colt ‘Lord Chapelfield’ so watch out for him on the racetrack in a few years’ time!