Do horses abandon their own babies? This question might cross your head when your pregnant mare has finally given birth to some handsome foals for which you have been waiting for at least 11 months. But when the day arrives, your mare turns out to be somewhat cruel – she ignores the babies and even tries to attack and hurt them.
Luckily, thanks to some advancements, we are now close to knowing the underlying reasons for this odd behavior and what we can at least try to do to prevent these sorrowful incidents.
Do Horses Abandon Their Own Babies?
Unfortunately, yes, horses do abandon their babies due to some reasons. Nevertheless, the phenomenon is fortunately very uncommon: only about five percent of foal births have been reported to face abandonment.
But why this 5% is abandoned?
If the foal is separated from the mother horse for some time, she may reject it when it comes near her, as she cannot recognize it as her foal. However, this reason is more common in the mares that are inexperienced. Also, the rejection can be temporary in this case. The mare might recognize her foals after a brief interval and proceed with her erstwhile lost family as usual.
Mastitis refers to the condition in which a lactating mare suffers from swollen mammary glands. Therefore, feeding the offspring for her becomes a painful experience, leading her to give thought to abandoning it altogether. When the pain becomes excruciating, the thought may convert into action.
Some common signs of mastitis in mares are:
- Enlarged, swollen mammary glands
- Teats are hot to touch
- Blood oozing out
Inexperienced female horses may become ticklish when their udder is touched, and therefore, mares may sometimes need ‘desensitizing sessions’ for their dormant, sensitive udder to be able to feel the suckling of foals without any problem. Having sensitive udders, horses are prone to rejecting their babies to avoid pain, just as in the case of mastitis.
If the delivery of the newborns has been a long and painful process, the mare will not be okay with the babies. Out of her condition, she might choose to keep herself away from the offspring and completely ignore it as if she is not the mom anymore, eventually leading to abandonment.
Nonetheless, the chances of the reversal of this behavior do exist, provided the exhaustion subsides soon.
What Can You Do for the Abandoned Foals?
It is painful to see a baby, be it an animal or a human being, getting separated from its parents. You can only do so much when you see it happening with a horse. You can try reuniting the foal with its mom, and if that does not work out, adopt the abandoned foal and take good care of it.
As discussed earlier, the probability of a mare reversing her decision does exist in several cases of abandonment. In the rest, you can try your best for a mare to do the same. However, note that reuniting might only be possible for you if you are the owner of the affected equine family.
Undo the Separation
Keep an eye on the events that might separate a baby from its mama. Within the safe boundaries of your barn, there could be no other reason than a critical illness in the mare that might make her somewhat unconscious of the existence of the newborns, separating the mom and the kids despite them being physically present under the same roof.
Under such circumstances, you would need to take immediate action before it is too late.
Stimulate the Udder
This is more a preventive measure than a corrective. You need to desensitize the udder of the pregnant mare. This is to make sure that the mare does not feel ticklish when the foal tries to suckle at it. Just handle and rub them regularly a few weeks before the delivery.
However, be cautious while touching the udder and belly area, as if the mare is not used to being touched there, she may resort to kicking you.
You don’t want to be a victim of a horse kick, as sometimes a hard horse kick can kill you.
The Importance of Colostrum!Equine babies need colostrum (the early milk produced by the mare) during their early stages to get the antibodies and nutrients vital for a healthy life. If a foal does not receive enough, he will be prone to several diseases.
Go for the Experience
Teaching your inexperienced mare in a kind of ‘internship’ can help her learn what to expect. Try leaving her with another mare and their children, and she will observe, and the chances of the babies suckling on the udders of your mare will also exist.
Hence, she will be more desensitized to the idea of getting babies, and the probability of abandonment will reduce. However, you need to be careful. If your mare starts kicking the foals, you should intervene.
Get Professional Help
Look for vet assistance. Your mare might be rejecting the kids due to some serious health issue, such as mastitis. An experienced veterinarian can help diagnose and treat the health issue.
Moreover, some drugs, like flunixin meglumine, are known to reduce discomfort and pain. Similarly, your doctor may recommend other treatments and calming pastes to reduce aggression in your pet.
Warning!Never use any medication on your horse without first running it by your vet.
If you witness a random abandoned foal, you can help it by taking care of it for the rest of its life. For that, you need to be wary of the needs the baby has.
For instance, you would have to arrange a suitable place, say a barn, get a nursing horse mom, or even become one: feed it the milk through a bottle. But know that it is a lifetime commitment, and you need to invest enough time and energy to do the job effectively.
Do Horses Kill Their Babies?
In the worst-case scenario of a mare abandoning her foal, the mare might attack her baby. The mare may kick, bite, and knock off the foal by striking repeatedly and may even trample the foal. All this battering would cause serious internal injuries and broken bones in foals, and sometimes foals may even die on the spot.
The reason is not agreed upon by the researchers still. Some say it is a result of fear, while others contend that it is nothing more than an abnormality. However, some evidence does point out that this behavior is particular to a few breeds, including Arabian horses.
Do Male Horses Abandon Their Babies Too?
Male horses may or may not abandon their babies, but they might end up killing them if the latter does not turn out to be their own. In simple words, each male horse has his own genes and only cares for the mare he mated with and the offspring thus born.
If somehow, he finds out the babies are not his own, he might take the extreme step.
Sometimes a stallion may also kill foals when taking over mares from another stallion. Oftentimes, while getting rid of a rival’s foals, a stallion may even kill some of his foals.
Conclusion: Do Horses Abandon Their Own Babies?
Though it is very uncommon, horses do abandon their babies, reasons being separation for a long time right after delivery, bad health, sensitive udders, and exhaustion during delivery. In the worst-case scenario, a mare might end up killing the babies.