Retained fetal placenta is a common, extremely serious postpartum problem in mares. The condition describes the failure to pass all, or part, of the placenta after foaling. When managed correctly it is unlikely to have any serious consequences. However, there are complications that may result in future breeding problems, lameness or even death if not correctly resolved. Ideally, the mare should pass, or expel the placenta about 15 minutes to one hour after foaling. If more than 4-6 hours have passed, then the mare should be treated as an emergency.
The Dangers Of Retained Placenta
Most cases of retained placenta are non problematic. Occasionally, other problems can develop such as: metritis, septicaemia, laminitis, breeding problems or even death. Left untreated the uterus can accumulate bacteria and toxins. Not only does the retained placenta allow a pathway for bacteria to enter, but the tissue breakdown (or autolysis) provides a great medium for bacterial growth. The resulting inflammation within the uterus leads to an increase in blood flow which allows toxins to be easily absorbed. This type of absorption may potentially lead to septicaemia. It is a very serious condition. You can act before it comes an emergency by doing the steps listed below.
How To Treat A Retained Placenta Naturally
The goal is to efficiently treat a retained placenta without force, and to prevent further complications as described above. So, whatever you do, DO NOT PULL THE PLACENTA!
- First, tie, not cut, any placenta hanging below the hocks. The extra weight is needed, so whatever you do, don’t cut.
- The most effective removal is done with slow, steady, gentle traction. You cannot do this steadily, nor gently enough by pulling.
- Steady pressure can be created with wet towels tied into the placenta. Take notice of the how far from the ground the towel is when tied. If you do not see any changes, or lowering of the wet towels after 30 minutes to an hour, try the next step.
- Fill a round, gallon, plastic jug about 2/3 full of water. Tie the jug into the placenta knot. Again, tie it above hocks, and take notice of how high the jug is suspended. You should see the jug gradually drop until the entire placenta falls out onto the ground.
- This is a tried and true method, and I have personally used this method with success when oxytocin therapy failed.
Forced removal, or excessive traction can tear the placenta, cause severe hemorrhage, or more inflammation that can be more problematic than the initial problem. By following the steps above, you can avoid aggressive pulling, or a torn placenta.
Oxytocin therapy causes uterine contractions and can help push out the tissue. Although uterine contractions can be painful in some mares, oxytocin given in reasonable doses doesn’t usually have many side effects. However, several hours after Oxytocin therapy, my mare still retained the placenta. That’s when I tried tried the gentle traction method. The placenta slowly eased out in one piece just as it should.
Do whatever you are most comfortable with, but if you have any doubts, by all means call your vet. If this happens again with one of our mares, I will try the towel method first, after one hour has passed. The towel usually does the trick. If that doesn’t work, then I’ll use the jug. After 4 hours and still no passed placenta, I will contact our veterinarian.
Foals cannot be pulled like a calf or puppy without putting the mare and foal in grave danger. Call your vet immediately if your mare is having trouble foaling.