Dummy foals

Also known as neonatal encephalopathy, maladjustment syndrome, hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy or perinatal asphyxia. Dummy foal syndrome refers to a newborn foal that is exhibiting abnormal behaviours and possible neurological signs.

Signs are variable but can include:

- Poor suckle reflex
- Weakness
- Lack of interest in the mare or in nursing
- Dullness/depression
- Wandering/circling
- Licking/chewing abnormal objects like stall walls
- Abnormal vocalisation
- Hypersensitivity to touch
- Seizure-like activity


Whilst the cause has not yet been scientifically proven, the syndrome occurs commonly in foals that have suffered some form of adverse periparturient event.
These events may have occurred:
- In utero (inflammation of the placenta or decrease in blood flow to the uterus secondary to illness   in the mare)
- At birth (dystocia, redbag or caesarean section)
- After birth (prematurity, prolonged recumbency, lung disease, sepsis or anaemia)

Ultimately any one of these events can result in hypoxia (insufficient oxygen reaching the tissues). Hypoxia can affect any number of the foals organ systems, including the brain.

The foal may appear normal immediately after birth, however signs usually begin to appear within 24 – 48 hours of foaling. Dummy foal syndrome has also been known to occur in foals that have not suffered any of the hypoxic events mentioned above, although this is less common.


Diagnosis is usually made by identification of risk factors, signs and elimination of other possible foal disorders. The veterinarian will usually take a blood sample to test organ function and measure the level of IgG antibodies to determine whether the foal has received sufficient colostrum.


Treatment will depend on the severity of the clinical signs but may involve:
- Nutritional support (via nasogastric tube or intravenously)
- Intravenous fluid therapy
- Plasma transfusion if antibody levels are inadequate
- Antioxidants to combat hypoxic damage to tissues
- Anti-inflammatories
- Antimicrobials
- Anti-seizure medication
- Other medications to help reduce pressure and maintain oxygen perfusion within the brain

Prognosis depends on the amount of cellular damage caused by the hypoxia.
Recovery is possible with prompt identification and lots of supportive care.