How Do You Know If You Are Getting a Healthy

Zebra Foal


Questions I Should Ask A Breeder

Copyrighted 2007 Nancy Nunke


1.  Do you give a genetic health guarantee with your foals?


2.  If you have bucket fed WITHOUT holding the bucket… (see article on bottle feeding, as you will NEVER want to purchase a bottle fed baby, or a baby whose formula has been hand held.)…how many times a day did you feed the foal in a 24 hour period, during the first couple of days, first week, second week, third week, etc., and what was the longest period of time between feedings?


3.  Are your mares out in pasture? If answer is yes…


4.  May I see a soil report of your pasture? Or, May I PAY FOR a soil report for your zebra pasture?


5.  Has the baby shown any signs of illness since its birth? If so, what were the symptoms? Did you have a vet look at the baby? If so, may I see the vet report?


6.  Would you mind if I had a pre-purchase exam done on the foal?


7. What are your procedures when you take a baby away from its mother with regard to the health of the baby?




1.  This should include heart defects, the most common cause young zebra deaths. Other diseases that could be contracted during the course of the zebra’s life would not be included. The IZZZA ( ) requires all member breeders to give a genetic guarantee. Please read the details of that requirement on the website.

Even if the breeder is not an IZZZA member, ask them give you a genetic guarantee, in writing. Many, many zebra babies are lost each year to heart problems. Those include white muscle disease, and other heart defects causing death when the zebra is stressed. Included in these causes is in-breeding, a big problem with zebras that are not registered and pedigreed with the IZZZA. These can only best be determined by necropsy in the case of death. Be sure your genetic guarantee includes the Purchaser’s choice of replacement OR the return of the Purchaser’s money paid for the foal, and make that specific as to just what that includes or excludes.


2.  For fear that the breeder simply reads this and gives you the ‘right’ answer based on this research information, email us for the correct answer, after getting the information from the breeder.


3. & 4.  Selenium deficiency is all too common in zebra babies. Many breeders have their mares out in big pastures, and do not supplement them, check them for selenium deficiency, nor do they check their pastures. New babies with selenium deficiency usually appear perfectly healthy. However, they are in their dam’s uterus for up to 13 months. If the mare is eating selenium (and usually vitamin E goes along with this) deficient pasture grass, then the foal is gestating for an entire year being selenium deficient.


What does this mean? White muscle disease and wasting disease are common results of selenium deficiency. A heavy white membrane covers the heart. This results in the heart not being able to expand properly when the heart rate increases. It also prevents the heart from growing in the young foal. The heart cannot keep up with the foal’s growth and/or activity. Any stress, such as trailering, training, or just gradual growth, can cause of the death of the zebra at a later date. Most owners do not realize that this condition can go on for quite a while before it finally takes its toll on the zebra.


Wasting disease is usually another symptom of this original situation. In this instance, the foal appears not to be growing as it should, and remains quite small, until it dies of acute heart failure, or other disease or condition exacerbated by the wasting disease condition. Wasting disease destroys the muscles, until the animal can no longer run, then trot, then walk, and finally, stand.


If you are contemplating purchasing a newborn it is a good idea to pay for a blood test as soon as possible to ascertain the selenium and other blood levels in the foal. It also behooves the Breeder to test for selenium in the foal, as soon as they take the foal from the mare, but prior to any supplemental feeding, so that if the Purchaser later feeds selenium deficient food, then the Breeder is protected within their own genetic guarantee documentation.


If the mare has changed pastures, or gone from pasture feeding to hand feeding later in the pregnancy, then you may not get the results that show selenium deficiency at the time, even though the foal may already be suffering with white muscle disease, from the mare’s early grass feeding on selenium deficient soils. Hay companies should be able to provide the Breeder with a hay report, which they should keep on file.

Also, if the foal is started on a good milk formula, then the foal would likely show selenium levels within the appropriate range, even though it could still have been selenium deficient throughout the gestation period and already have white muscle disease.


Therefore it is important to know how the mares have been fed throughout the pregnancy. If the mares are fed selenium efficient feed at the time of foaling, then the pastures they were grazing during the other part of the pregnancy should be checked for selenium.


Many breeders do not check their soils for selenium, as some are not apprised of the value of selenium in the equine diet, or just don’t care, since they are not giving genetic guarantees anyway.


What is the point of spending money on a foal, then spending in incredible amount of time, and emotion, as well as feed and vetting, only to have it die down the road of a disease caused by the breeder’s failure to make sure his/her pregnant mares are getting what they need in their diet?


And, now, to the genetic guarantee…do you want another foal from that breeder, or your money back so that you can purchase from a breeder who spends the time and money to make sure his mares and fetuses, and subsequent foals, are healthy?


5.  If the breeder is truthful and tells you of any problems the foal may have had, consult your vet as to the possible later repercussions of such an illness.

If the baby was ‘off its feed’ for awhile, it could have been suffering from ulcers, a common problem in zebra foals who are taken from their mothers and not fed often enough. This can result in growth issues, as well as later health issues with regard to the ulcers, both active and healed ulcers which would show resulting scar tissue in the stomach.


6.  Purchaser is the one who pays for this exam, to avoid conflict of interest with the Seller’s veterinarian. The vet is then working for the Purchaser, not the Seller.


7.  Again, email us for the details of the correct answer to this question, after getting the answer from the breeder.


All in all, make your breeder responsible for their part in the production of your zebra – don’t trust what you see is what you get – ask for proof or get your own proof that you are receiving a healthy baby, and cover what you don’t see by asking for a genetic guarantee.


Make sure you have a necropsy done right after the death of your zebra. Store the body properly until that time so that the tests can be done that need to be done to prove your case.


Provide the breeder immediately with a copy of the necropsy, and have the body held until the breeder signs off on it, in case he/she wants to have their pathologist also look at the remains. Have the pathologist keep the parts of the zebra that were problematic to the animal, and take photos as well.


If the breeder does not agree with you that the cause of death was genetic, then you will have to prove your case, so cross your t’s and dot your i’s. But, most importantly, purchase your zebra from someone who is crossing all their t's and dotting all their i's. You will likely pay more, because you are getting more, but in the end the heartache, care taking, and vets costs, then loss of your precious zebra is never worth the few dollars you'll save on the initial purchase rather than purchasing from a well known reputable breeder who is truly knowledgeable about the animals they are breeding, and whose expenses of maintaining their healthy herd, registering their animals, feeding the babies properly at a much greater cost in formula and time, etc., but who is proud to pass to you and all their clients, a healthy, registered, pedigreed zebra that will spend a long, healthy life with you.

One lady, SJ. S., purchased a zebra from a breeder, and the zebra died at about 4 months of a genetic problem. The breeder agreed to replace the foal at a reduced cost for a second foal. The second foal had what was thought to be wasting disease, and also died. The veterinary expenses and the purchase price price of each foal, although individually very reasonable, added up to the cost of a healthy, registered, guaranteed, trained, non bottle-fed zebra baby. The heartache that this person experienced was terrible.

Another family in AZ, J. & L. K., purchased a zebra baby at one week of age, which was on the bottle when they got him. They subsequently found our website, read our article on training and bottle feeding, and called us to see if they could bring him here for training and switching to the bucket. We agreed. He arrived from Arizona the next morning. It only took a second after opening the trailer to see how ill he was, with projectile diarrhea on the walls of the trailer. I asked how long he had been doing that, and they said since they got him, thinking it was natural while being formula fed, as many people do. It is, of course, not natural, and indicates severe illness. After taking his temperature and determining that he was extremely ill, the vet was called. Upon examination, the colt had a severe umbilical infection, systemic infection and bacterial infection. The vet thought the colt would not live longer than 4 days, even with the utmost of care. We treated the colt around the clock, day after day, week after week, and ended up giving him 3 rounds of antiobiotics to try to help him recover. We force fed him 5 times the calories a healthy colt would need to keep up his strength and nutrition while he fought off the illnesses. He recovered after three and a half weeks. But then, his better health short lived, within a couple of months he was ill again, with a head swelling, and again a month or so later with another systemic infection, bacterial infection and then lung infection a few days after entering the hospital. Sadly, his owners had to make the heart wrenching decision to take his pain away after spending several days in intensive care at the hospital. The breeder admitted to the buyer that they did not do umbilical dips on their babies....and the stories go on and on and on...with many thousands of dollars being spent on veterinary expenses, around the clock care required, and then the terrible heartache resulting from the loss of these babies, with no recourse because of no genetic or health guarantees from the breeders. This baby was at our ranch for 5 months in our constant care, day and night, with ever so many sleepless nights while we sat up with him, willing him to live, feeding him hourly day after day, week after week, and giving his meds to try to keep him alive, healthy and happy, and we felt the loss deeply in our hearts, grieving with his owners. We lost a best friend, and so unnecessarily if the breeder had been digilent and had him health checked or paid attention to his manure, taken his temperature, or just spent time with him to see that he was ill, so that he would not send out a sick baby to unsuspecting owners.

Another lady, L.D., purchased a zebra baby, and was told how to formula feed it by the 'breeder' and the breeder's veterinarian,who both gave the incorrect instructions. The baby was also on the bottle. The baby was skinny when purchased, and the vet said that was 'normal' for zebra babies. Perhaps it was normal for that particular breeder's zebra babies, and the only ones the vet was familiar with. The zebra baby died a week later, and the breeder would not compensate or replace the baby. The necropsy report showed multiple ulcer scarring and active ulcers in the baby, along with pneumonia from bottle feeding with a nipple with too much flow. How did that zebra or new owner have a chance here?

Orphan feeding is a science, and we have done a tremendous amount of research on just how much to feed and when with these zebra babies, which to date, when speaking with other breeders, none have reported feeding their 'orphaned' zebra babies properly, to insure optimum growth and health.

The stories we receive are endless...unfortunately many people either don't do their homework or simply think they have done their homework and then later find out many breeders know so little about caring for zebras and zebra babies, or give them improper, unhealthy information and instruction.


If you do not have a genetic guarantee, chances of your ever recovering your costs are slim to none.

Once you get your zebra home, be very careful of what you feed, and how often you feed, so that you do not create the same issues in your zebra that we are all working towards eliminating with irresponsible breeders or breeders who don't do their homework before going into the business of breeding these precious animals.