What is Foal Heat Diarrhea?
Foal heat diarrhea is a known term by veterinarians and horse owners to describe diarrhea in foals after they are born. Foal heat diarrhea typically occurs between seven and ten days after they are born. The reason for the name foal heat is because of the timing of the diarrhea. The dam is typically going through her first estrous cycle, or heat, during the time of approximately one week after birth or a few days before. Horses generally ovulate a few days after they give birth. Foal heat diarrhea is also referred to as foal heat scours.
Foal heat diarrhea is distinguished from other causes of diarrhea by the horse not having any other symptoms, and, of course the timing of the condition. Foal heat diarrhea does not cause the young horse to become ill, and this is because the diarrhea is the result of changing bacteria within the gastrointestinal system.
This type of diarrhea is not usually serious or life-threatening. If the foal is drinking plenty of water, is nursing properly, and is fever-free, the condition should dissipate on its own. It is important to monitor the condition so it does not become so severe that the foal becomes dehydrated or stops nursing altogether.
Foal heat diarrhea is known as such because it typically occurs in foals a few days to two weeks after birth, which is also when the dam is often undergoing hormonal changes of the heat cycle. This may be due to the changes in the bacterial flora of the foal, but is also thought to be related to a change in diet. The diarrhea may occur as the foal samples grain and hay for the first time.
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Symptoms of Foal Heat Diarrhea in Horses
Symptoms of foal heat diarrhea are typical and are characteristic to diarrhea without being ill. Symptoms include:
- Runny stools
- Stools that are not as firm as normal
- A foal which has just given birth
- Diarrhea with no fever
- Diarrhea with no other illness
Diarrhea in horses can be caused by a variety of factors. Different types of illnesses, besides foal heat, can cause your horse to have loose or runny stools. Other types of conditions include:
- Clostridium Difficile
- Aeromonas spp
- C. perfringens
- Neorickettsia risticii
- Toxin ingestion
- Toxicity to NSAIDS
- Enterocolopathy from sand ingestion
- Alteration in the horse’s diet
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Causes of Foal Heat Diarrhea in Horses
Causes of foal heat diarrhea are few, and are still being researched by professionals. Causes of this condition include:
- Sudden changes in the flora of the horse’s bacteria within the gastrointestinal system
- Transitory diarrhea is caused by this change in the horse’s system
- A possible dietary change after giving birth
- The foal’s bodily adjustment to just giving birth
Diagnosis of Foal Heat Diarrhea in Horses
If your foal is exhibiting signs of diarrhea, call your veterinarian to evaluate the horse and ensure the cause of the diarrhea is attributed to the many changes going through your horse’s gastrointestinal tract and not illness. The veterinarian will take a closer look at the foal’s symptoms and ask questions about the timing of the diarrhea in relation to the birth.
The first thing your veterinarian may do is take your foal’s temperature to be sure there is no fever. Horses with foal heat diarrhea do not have a fever, so this will help the veterinarian’s diagnosis. The veterinarian may also take blood work, including a biochemistry profile, and a urinalysis to rule out any other illnesses that may cause diarrhea.
Your veterinarian may ask questions about your horse’s nursing habits to be sure he is nursing adequately. This is another sign of foal heat diarrhea; horses that are ill and have diarrhea as a result of another illness typically do not nursing effectively.
The veterinarian will want to examine the horse’s diarrhea. Foal heat diarrhea is characterized by loosened stools or watered-down liquid stools. Foals with other types of diarrhea will have significantly watered-down diarrhea with a fever and other signs of illness.
Treatment of Foal Heat Diarrhea in Horses
Once your foal has been diagnosed with this condition, your veterinarian may or may not choose to treat it. Typically, this type of diarrhea goes away on its own and no treatment is necessary. Treatment methods may include:
Your veterinarian will want you to monitor your horse to be sure he does not become dehydrated. Monitoring the amount of times the foal nurses will be important. If he stops nursing or seems depressed, you will need to contact your veterinarian once again. Diarrhea that has becomes bloody or profuse must be investigated quickly.
Probiotics and Fluids
Your veterinarian may give your horse probiotics, or prescribe probiotics for you to administer. Probiotics are effective in giving the gastrointestinal tract the normal, good bacteria it needs to function properly. This can help ward off any more moderate to severe diarrhea. Yogurt is an excellent probiotic, and your veterinarian may recommend this as well. In addition, intestinal protectants and oral fluids containing electrolytes may be required in more severe cases.
Application of Petroleum Jelly
If your foal has diarrhea, he may have had a bit of hair loss on the backside area. Known as skin scald, this irritation is from the diarrhea, and can be treated with the application of petroleum jelly. Petroleum jelly can also prevent skin scald. Your veterinarian may also recommend Preparation H for your horse’s raw backside.
Recovery of Foal Heat Diarrhea in Horses
Horses that experience foal heat diarrhea typically become well again within a few days to a week. Treatment is not usually necessary; however, if your veterinarian has recommended dietary changes or probiotics, be sure to give your foal what he needs according to the medical professional’s guidelines.
Your veterinarian will give you advice as to what to watch for in terms of your foal. He may ask you to monitor the nursing and water intake. The veterinarian may also ask you to monitor the diarrhea in order to ensure that he remains well even with having the runny or loose stools.
If your foal’s diarrhea worsens, or if he begins to show different symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian. Horses with diarrhea that are caused from infections will need to be seen as soon as possible in order to receive fluids, antibiotics, or other treatment.