Premature Foal: “Freyja”

“Freyja's” dam, “Melodie” came to Acadia Equine Rehabilitation five months prior to her due date as a fairly high risk foaling case having never carried a foal to term successfully.  Five weeks prior to her due date, “Melodie” was diagnosed with placentitis and veterinarians prescribed a medication protocol to try and keep her from delivering the foal before it would be viable.

“Freyja” (pronounced “Fray-ah” a Norse goddess of strength and love) arrived early on the morning of March 18, 2009 at AER more than three weeks before her due date. She was seen immediately by a veterinarian and we worked with her for a couple of hours to try and get her to stand and nurse before it was decided to she needed to be cared for at the clinic. AER hauled “Freyja” and mother “Melodie” to Littleton Equine Medical Center where they spent ten days in the ICU receiving around the clock care.

“Freyja” struggled with common “dummy foal” medical issues and was on oxygen and a feeding tube for the first week or so of her life. She also had a urinary catheter placed to prevent her bladder from rupturing and struggled to control her body temperature.  A few days after her arrival at LEMC, she was strong enough to stand up with help and was promptly diagnosed with a torn gastrocnemius muscle in her left hind leg. It was speculated that this probably happened during birth since the mare was medicated to prevent foaling and her cervix probably wasn't dilated.

A splint was applied to her leg from stifle to hoof in order to immobilize the leg and give the muscle a chance to adhere back to the femur with scar tissue. The filly struggled through pneumonia and learning to eat from a bottle so that the naso-gastric tube could be removed and she could be released from the clinic and sent back to AER to continue her recovery.

When “Freyja” and “Melodie” came back to Dark Star Farm under AER's care, they were set up in a 12x12 stall with a small area blocked off for the filly. She could not stand or lie back down on her own and there was concern that the mare might step on her if they were left together without the foal barricade. The mare was milked and “Freyja” was bottle fed every two hours around the clock.

Dummy foals often get bed sores in the first few days of their lives because their skin is so thin and they are too weak to stand (and often the cuboidal bones in their hocks and carpus' are not completely formed and they are kept down as long as possible to try to prevent angular limb deformity from developing). “Freyja” had bed sores and also had to have the bandage and split on her left hind leg changed daily because of the bed sores initially and then the pressure sores over her hock and fetlock that developed as a result of the splint.

Her around the clock care including getting her up and back down, bottle feeding, monitoring her temperature and administering medication. After two weeks the mare and filly were moved to a 12x24 stall where an 8x8 section was paneled off for “Freyja”.

Several weeks before veterinarians were willing to remove the splint, “Freyja's” pressure sores over her hock and fetlock were severe enough that either the splint had to be changed or removed for fear that the wounds would cause either or both joints to become infected and the filly's life would be in jeopardy again.  

Acadia Equine Rehabilitation had used a Denver company called Orthopets, owned by Martin and Amy Kaufmann, for custom canine bracing needs and called them out to fit “Freyja” and work with LEMC veterinarians to develop a brace that would continue to immobilize her left hind leg and allow the gastrocnemius to finish healing but also take the pressure off her hock and fetlock wounds.

She wore her Orthopets brace for five more weeks and then graduated to a simple support bandage. Towards the end of the bracing period, “Freyja” had learned to stand and lay back down on her own, as well as drink her milk from a bucket. She never did nurse from the mare.

In August AER hauled “Freyja” and “Melodie” home to their owner's private residence in Parker, Colorado where they continue to thrive. “Freyja” is sound and spends her days growing up and playing with a paint yearling colt.