Here at Gow Equine, we always hope that foaling goes well and that both the mare and her foal are happy and healthy!

Unfortunately something we need to consider is that this is not always the case and some foals are born quite sick and require immediate attention by a vet. Sometimes enough is done back at the farm to ensure the foal is stable, however in some cases the foal may be required to be admitted into the hospital where there is 24/7 monitoring and care of the foal.

As already stated in our previous blogs, foals are very fragile and weak when they are first born as they have little to no immune system. If a foal gets sick at a very young age they could rapidly go downhill within only days or even hours. This makes it even more important that should a foal seem sick and unwell immediate action must be taken to ensure the foal makes a full recovery.

One reason a foal may be quite sick when they are first born is due to their blood being septic, meaning they have an infection in their blood stream, which is manageable if picked up as early as possible. It is very important to have the early checks done on your foal including blood tests. The foal may seem bright and alert for the first few days but will rapidly decrease very quickly. Blood tests can determine if the foal is having internal difficulties before the foal will show signs. Some signs a foal may show if they are septic is snotty nose, coughing, coming off suck from the mare, being lethargic and just generally showing as unwell. The bloods will show that the foal has a high count of white blood cells and a high level of their inflammatory picture. Should the blood tests show this but the foal seems to be well and healthy, the foal will usually be put on a 3 day course of antibiotics at home to try and fight any infection that could be attacking the foal from the inside. However, in some cases the infection may be stronger than the antibiotics, meaning the antibiotics may not work. The blood tests will be retaken and a further course of action will be discussed. Hoping all is well, the foal should make a full recovery.

Joint ill is another problem which a foal may be born with. This is again an infection in the blood stream which attacks the joints, such as knees and hocks. The pockets in these joints will fill with infection and fluid and can often be sore meaning the foal will show signs of lameness. It is not always possible to determine a foal’s lameness when they are very young, especially if they are also born weak. They may appear wobbly at such an early and be just fine with a bit of time once they gather strength. We need to look very closely and have a well trained eye in order to pick up the difference between weak and lame. If a foal has an infection in their joint, the joint will need to tapped, this is when fluid is drawn from the joint for testing. This will determine how bad the infection is. In some cases, the foal may just be able to be put on a strong course of antibiotics and monitored regularly to assess the swelling and the affected joint. This would be the best scenario, however, if the tap shows a very high level of infection it will need to be drained. This will always be done in a veterinary hospital as 24/7 care and treatment will be necessary. It is vitally important that the flush of the joint is carried out as soon as possible to make sure the infection does not spread to any other part of the foals body, should this occur the further the infection spreads the harder it will be for the foal to fight it off. As already stated, foals are weak and find it hard to fight infections, so should such a serious problem be left untreated you are putting the foals life at risk. We all know that bad joints will be very detrimental to that foals racing career. Once the joint has been flushed, even though a very small entrance, it will be bandaged to ensure no further infection enters through the wound. The foal will be put on a course of both pain relief and antibiotics and continuously monitored for any further complications and temperatures taken on a regular basis to confirm the stability of the foal. The joint will be tapped again within 48 hours to confirm the infection levels again. Should there be a large improvement the joint will be left alone and antibiotics continued. However, sometimes the joint will need to be flushed a further time and the same process repeated.

Abscesses on the foal’s lungs are also another reason a foal may become sick. Again, blood tests at an early stage could help determine if there is a problem that needs to be dealt with. An abscess is also another infection that has filled a pocket of fluid which will make the foal feel unwell. Usually with this infection they will have a high temperature, fast heart rate and heavy breathing. A strong course of antibiotics will help fight this infection, surgery to have the abscess removed is not usually necessary. Depending on the foals health and the size of the abscess, treatment may or may not require a trip into the hospital. As always we hope that this is not the case and both mare and foal can stay at home!

When the foal is inside the mare, they are attached by the umbilical cord and after birth this is broken. Once broken it is important to keep the umbilicus clean and usually either sprayed with iodine or another strong wound aid. Until the umbilicus has healed, this is an easy entrance point for any infection. If an infection enters this could spread and again cause the foal to become unwell and the foal will require care. Over a few days the umbilicus should become hard and dry. If it is feels wet this could indicate an infection has entered. The vet should be called to scan the umbilicus and further up in the foal’s body to confirm an infection. If the outcome is positive for an infection, regular cleaning of the umbilicus will be carried out and antibiotics will be administered. Depending on the severity of the infection, the foal should be able to be treated at home without a trip into the hospital, which as we know is always the best possible outcome.

Overall, foals will go downhill rapidly and any problems should be noted early and dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible! Always remember to look out for any warning signs the foal may be giving you to tell you that they are sick. These could include high temperatures, coughs, snotty nose, coming off suck, lethargic and/or loose droppings. Not every foal will give the exact same signs and not all of the above may be present so remember it is important to assess your foal on a regular basis and understand the importance of acting on anything that seems not quite right!

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