What is Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals)?
Foals that have been exposed to unsanitary conditions during birthing can easily become infected with bacteria that will cause diarrhea. The mare’s milk may also have bacteria that can make the foal sick. The most common bacteria in foals are E. coli, salmonella or clostridium.
This condition can cause your foal to become weak and unable to nurse. If your foal is experiencing diarrhea contact the equine veterinarian without delay. Treatment with antibiotics, supportive care, and possible isolation may be necessary. The prognosis can be guarded in these cases; response to the prescribed therapy is key to the recovery of your foal.
Most foals will have a bout of diarrhea at some point within their first two months of life. Most of these foals have a mild case of diarrhea that is not contagious or life threatening. However, bacterial diarrhea in foals is a serious condition and can be fatal to the foal.
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Symptoms of Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals) in Horses
Bacterial diarrhea has the same symptoms as basic diarrhea. That is why it is important to contact your veterinarian for an assessment if you notice any diarrhea. With foals, it is better to err on the side of caution rather than wait and see if the diarrhea clears up in a few days. A decline in health can be rapid and the recovery more difficult with a delay in treatment.
- Profuse watery diarrhea
- Failure to thrive
- Unwilling to nurse
- Increased breathing
Causes of Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals) in Horses
Foals that are birthed in unsanitary conditions, such as a muddy field or a stall that has not been mucked, can expose a foal to bacteria. When a mare is close to foaling, she should be placed in a birthing stall that is kept clean and full of fresh, dry straw.
The mare’s milk may also contain bacteria. When the foal nurses, they ingest this bacterium which can cause severe diarrhea. Check the mare’s milk for any discoloration or blood. Feel along the teat and bag for any lumps or excessive heat that may indicate an infection.
Diagnosis of Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals) in Horses
After an initial physical examination of the foal, your veterinarian will collect a stool sample and do a fecal exam to determine the cause of the diarrhea. Once it has been determined that bacteria is present, your veterinarian will then have to determine which bacterium is present, so that the proper treatment can be given.
Treatment of Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals) in Horses
Once your veterinarian has determined which bacterium is the cause, an intensive antimicrobial treatment will begin. Aggressive antibiotic treatments will be necessary to help your foal combat the bacterial infection.
Your foal must be isolated from any other horses and foals to keep cross-contamination to a minimum and prevent an epidemic. The stall must be thoroughly sanitized with bleach and water every day and all fecal matter removed immediately following defecation. Most farms or stables do not have a quarantine area; therefore, it may be better to admit your foal into the animal hospital for quarantine and treatment.
For foals that have a severe case of bacterial diarrhea, supportive care is necessary. Fluid therapy is necessary to replace electrolytes and fluids that have been lost through diarrhea. Your veterinarian may also put antibiotics through your foal’s IV to ensure quicker absorption. In cases where supportive care is necessary, your foal is generally admitted into the animal hospital.
Foals that are only a few days old may be given plasma containing the antibodies found in the colostrums of mother’s milk to help them build an immune system to fight other pathogens that they may be exposed to.
Recovery of Bacterial Diarrhea (Foals) in Horses
Depending on the age and general health of the foal, recovery can vary. Your veterinarian will be guarded in their prognosis until they see how well your foal responds to the treatment plan put in place. Getting immediate treatment for bacterial diarrhea does increase your foal’s chances of a full recovery.
Once your veterinarian has done a full assessment of your foal’s condition and overall health, they will be able to provide you with a more accurate prognosis, including recovery time.