External stress increases sympathoadrenal activity and prolongs the expulsive phase of foaling in pony mares.


Graf Lehndorff Institute, Vetmeduni Vienna, 16845 Neustadt (Dosse), Germany. Electronic address: [Email]


Mares usually give birth when they perceive their environment as safe and therefore disturbance at foaling may inhibit labor. In this study, foaling mares were transferred to an unfamiliar environment at rupture of the allantochorion (stress, n = 6) or were left undisturbed (control, n = 5). The progress of foaling, heart rate, heart rate variability (HRV) and plasma catecholamine, oxytocin and cortisol concentration were determined. In stressed mares, time from rupture of the allantochorion to appearance of the fetal feet (5.3 ± 1.1 vs. 1.6 ± 0.4 min) and total length of fetal expulsion were longer than in controls (both p < 0.05). Heart rate decreased during the expulsive phase of foaling in control mares (p < 0.01) but increased transiently in stressed mares. Heart rate calculated as percentage of the baseline was higher in stressed than in control mares (p = 0.05). HRV variables SDRR (standard deviation of the beat-to-beat interval) and RMSSD (root mean square of successive beat-to-beat differences) increased during foal expulsion (SDRR p < 0.01 and RMSSD p < 0.05). The increase in HRV was delayed in stressed compared to control mares (SDRR and RMSSD time x group p < 0.05). Plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine concentrations calculated as area under the curve for the expulsive phase of foaling were higher in stressed than control mares (p < 0.05). Concentrations of oxytocin and cortisol were elevated during foal expulsion (both p < 0.001) but not different between groups. In conclusion, disturbance of mares during expulsion of the foal prolonged foaling. This effect is most likely mediated via increased sympathetic activity and not inhibition of oxytocin release.


Epinephrine,Foaling,Heart rate,Horse,Stress,

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