Article by Cindy Reich: There have been relatively few new developments in the foaling world with regard to the actual birth process. Mares have been doing it for hundreds of years without interference. In recent years, however, an intriguing technique for dummy foals has re-written what we all believed about this syndrome.
A ‘dummy’ (neonatal maladjustment syndrome) foal is one that shows no interest in the mare. It may circle the stall, chew on the walls, but not show any interest in nursing. If you attempt to bottle feed it there is generally no suckle reflex. These symptoms can happen at birth or become evident in the first 24-48 hours after birth. Previously, it was thought that these foals suffered from a lack of oxygen during the birth process. If there was a dystocia, that was evidence enough. If there was no dystocia it was thought that there might have been a problem with the pregnancy that resulted in the ‘dummy’ behavior at birth.
However, Dr. John Madigan at University of California at Davis has an astonishing new perspective on what a ‘dummy’ foal may be experiencing by mimicing the symptoms of neonatal maladjustment syndrome in healthy newborns by giving them a neural steroid that is in high concentrations in foal’s brains while in utero. Once the foal goes through the birthing process, these neural steroids decrease rapidly. It is thought that these neural steroids are what keep the foal’s body quiet inside the mare. After birth, the steroids decrease and the foal becomes active and displays normal neonate behavior.
Dr. Madigan theorized that in dummy foals, something interfered with the brain’s recognition of going through the birth process and, therefore, the steroid level remained high. He then devised a process called the ‘foal squeeze’ to simulate the forces on the foal’s body when going through the birth canal. The purpose being to stimulate the foal’s brain to recognize that it has gone through the birthing process and thus causing the steroid level to decrease. Madigan uses a simple rope device that puts pressure across the chest and ribcage. When the rope is properly applied and pressure put on it, the foal will automatically go down. Pressure is maintained on the rope while the foal is lying down for twenty minutes (roughly the amount of time a foal’s birth takes from the time it enters the birth canal). When the rope is removed, the foal will generally get up and go to the mare and begin nursing. In essence, it had been ‘rebirthed’ and the brain was stimulated to decrease the neural steroids and to ‘wake up’ the foal...