When maternal behavior in mares goes wrong - DVM
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When maternal behavior in mares goes wrong
Options include reestablishing bonds with the foals or using surrogate mares


Other alternatives

A nurse mare is another alternative. With nurse mares, sometimes you have to work with them to introduce them to a foal, but with most of them, that's their job, and the farms keep them because of their good temperament and behavior around foals.

"If you're lucky enough to have access to nurse mares, especially when a mare might try to ravage her foal or doesn't have enough milk, and you've tried administering drugs to induce lactation, nurse mares are often times the easier solution, depending upon availability, but may be not the cheapest," Wolfsdorf says. "But nurse mares can save a lot of concern and unhappiness of what an aggressive mare might do to her baby."

And if you try to bottle or hand raise a foal, you have be cautious of its temperament as it matures. You also need to be careful to provide the proper amount of milk, sufficient nursing opportunities and adequate nutrients within the milk replacer. "Also, bottle-raised foals do not have the access to horse social interaction, as they would if raised by a nurse mare," says Wolfsdorf.

The more challenging situation is when you don't have a nurse mare available or when the mare demonstrates only a mild degree of rejection.

"You can provide drugs or hormones to assist milk let-down or to promote mammary development (prolactin, oxytocin) or tranquilize the mare to make them a little bit more amiable to letting a foal nurse," says Wolfsdorf. "People may intervene to hold the mare, to help teach her to accept the foal, to help the foal to more easily nurse and to get the pair accustomed to each other until the bond is established."

Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.


1. Daels PF. Induction of lactation and adoption of the orphan foal, in Proceedings. Annual AAEP Resort Symposium, 2006.

2. Steiner JV. How to induce lactation in non-pregnant mares, in Proceedings. Annual AAEP Convention, 2006.

Suggested Reading

  • Houpt KA. 2000. Equine maternal behavior and its aberrations. In: Recent advances in companion animal behavior problems. International Veterinary Information Service, 2000.
  • Grogan EH, McDonnell SM. Mare and foal bonding and problems. Clin Tech Equine Pract 2005;4:228-237.
  • Daels PF, Duchamp G, Porter D. 2002. Induction of lactation and adoption of foals by non-parturient mares, in Proceedings. Annual AAEP Convention, 2002.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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