Sick because of the beestings

(Foto: Karin Sevink)

May 21, 2020

(Photo: Karin Sevink)
Veterinarian Gerrit Kampman received a phone call from an anxious breeder. His mare had given birth to a healthy foal which was drinking well, but in the course of the day the foal became more and more listless: ‘Luckily, the breeder told me that in the previous year this mare’s foal had died, probably as a result of Neonatal Isoerythrolysis, also called the Rhesus factor or blood disease. We immediately separated the foal from the mare, but by that time it was already pretty poorly.’


When the foal’s blood type differs from the mare’s because the foal has inherited the stallion’s blood type, the mare can develop antibodies towards the foal’s blood type. Contrary to human babies who are exposed to their mother’s blood via the placenta, in horses nothing gets through the dam’s placenta. Foals start to receive antibodies when they ingest their dam’s colostrum, or beestings. Obviously, any owner checks to make sure a newborn foal drinks well from its dam. And that’s when things go wrong. The antibodies in the colostrum cause anaemia in the foal, who grows weaker and weaker and the membranes turn a yellowish colour. It is a rare disease, which explains why veterinarians are not always quick to diagnose Neonatal Isoerythrolysis.

Artificial colostrum

‘To save the foal it had to get a blood transfusion,’ Kampman says. ‘The breeder had an older gelding in the yard which he used as a teaser stallion for the mares. We drew blood from this gelding and administered it to the foal by blood transfusion. Fortunately, in this case the foal soon recovered. For the breeder the time that followed was pretty intense. At least every two hours the foal had to be bottle-fed with artificial beestings. To make sure the foal couldn’t drink from the mare it needed to wear a muzzle. The mare had to be milked to keep the milk production going. After five days, after the foal guts closed and could no longer absorb the antibodies, the foal was allowed again to drink from the dam. At that point it is a matter of sit and wait to find out if the foal, who is by now used to bottle-feeding, starts suckling and whether the mare is willing to accept it again. It was a great satisfaction to see that everything worked out well and the foal completely recovered.’

Read the full real-life story by veterinarian Gerrit Kampman in the June issue of Phryso

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