Patient Stories

Happy Ending for Preemie Foal

Drs. Ana Nobrega, Heather McCrary, and Sandra Yucupicio with foal, Buddy.

Drs. Ana Nobrega, Heather McCrary, and Sandra Yucupicio pose with foal, Buddy, while taking a walk through the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

By Mel Fletcher, CVT

Buddy had a lot stacked against him. He was born four weeks early and, due to his early arrival, his mom never began producing milk to feed him. When he arrived at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in early June, he was critically ill.

Foal, Buddy, in bed with tubes and pills.
Buddy in bed surrounded by pillows and tubes while he works to gain strength.

Buddy spent two weeks completely bedridden while senior veterinary students and other caregivers in the equine internal medicine service fed him through a tube and changed his body position every two hours to prevent collapsed lungs and pressure sores.

As a premature foal, Buddy had good days and bad days. Everyone on the service was rooting for him!  There were many nights where the doctor on his case, Dr. Sandra Yucupicio, received late-night phone calls and even came back to the clinic to check on Buddy. 

Showing Some Fight

About a week after he arrived, Buddy seemed to have some extra fight and confidence while his bedding was being changed, so caregivers tried to get Buddy to stand, and he did! It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t for long, but it was a huge step in the right direction. The good news was immediately shared with Dr. Yucupicio. 

Dr. Sandra Yucupicio and Certified Veterinary Technician Mel Fletcher snuggling with Buddy during his care.

From that night on, Buddy started to get out of his bed on his own. Day by day he got stronger and more confident. A week after he first stood with help, Buddy stood on his own! At this point his feeding tube was removed, and Buddy got to feed from a bucket.

Unfortunately, bucket feeding can be very expensive and time consuming. The best thing for a foal is to have a mare that provides milk and teaches the foal good manners. Bucket-fed foals tend to be pushy and misbehave because they do not have a mother to correct them when they are young.

Luckily for Buddy, his owner had another mare that had just weaned a foal and still had a good supply of milk. This mare was brought to the hospital to see if she would accept Buddy and feed him.

Now, you can’t just put a mare and a foal together when they don’t know each other! There is a process called grafting, which involves medications and patience, to get the mare to accept an unknown foal. 

‘Nursing Like a Champ’

Foal, Buddy, standing on his own

At first, Buddy and the mare stayed in the same stall, but separated to give them time to get used to each other. We monitored them very closely during this process, which can take several days.

Buddy and his new mom only needed a few days to bond. Once the mare had accepted Buddy as her own, they were allowed to be together. Buddy was nursing like a champ! Dr. Yucupicio and team were thrilled because this was by far the best outcome for Buddy. 

Just a few days shy of being at the hospital for a month, Buddy went home. It was a bittersweet moment for Dr. Yucupicio and all the faculty, technicians, and students who worked so hard to save Buddy’s life. Although this case was very labor- and time-intensive, all the effort was worth it to watch Buddy get on a trailer with his new mom.