What is Joint Ill?
The bacterial infection will spread through the bloodstream because a new foal has a very fragile immune system. Bacteria can lodge in the growth plates of the bones and the joints, allowing the infection to quickly spread. A new foal’s immune system is reliant upon their mother’s colostrum. The bacteria generally enter a foal’s body through their umbilical cord. Unsanitary birthing conditions and dirty bedding can cause bacteria to grow and infect the foal.
As with any bacterial infection, foals suffering from joint ill will have diarrhea, will be listless and will not thrive. Refusing to nurse is a serious problem and you must get immediate veterinary care for your foal.
Joint ill occurs in foals and is the common terminology for a joint infection that is caused by bacteria or septic arthritis. The bacterial infection will oftentimes spread from the joint into the surrounding bones. Joint ill usually affects foals that are less than one week old, although foals up to four months of age can be affected.
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Symptoms of Joint Ill in Horses
New foals should be monitored closely for the first several months of life. If you notice anything that is wrong with your foal, contact your veterinarian immediately for an appointment. A foal is extremely fragile and any changes in their health can be life threatening.
- Swollen joints in the legs
- Swollen and painful navel
- Navel not drying up
- Abscess or discharge from the navel
- Reluctance to feed
- Stumbling or uncoordinated movements
Immediate treatment is essential in saving your foal’s life and minimizing any long term effects from joint ill. Do not wait and see if these symptoms resolve themselves as it may be too late for any treatments to be effective.
Causes of Joint Ill in Horses
The primary cause of joint ill in horses is cleanliness. It affects foals from newborn up to four months of age and can be fatal if not treated immediately and aggressively. A blood borne infection, known as septicemia, usually occurs when the foal is exposed to an unsanitary environment.
The bacteria will enter the foal’s body through their navel, which is susceptible to infection until it is healed from the birthing process and detaching from the placenta. One way to help protect new foals from joint ill is to ensure that the conditions within the stable and more importantly, the birthing stall are clean, fresh and disinfected.
Any wet bedding should be replaced as soon as possible with fresh, dry bedding to keep exposure to bacteria minimized. Clean your foal’s navel with a solution that contains chlorhexidine. Iodine has been used when chlorhexidine is not available.
If your foal is not up and walking on its own within three to six hours after birth, your veterinarian needs to examine it immediately to determine what is causing your foal to not be thriving.
Diagnosis of Joint Ill in Horses
Since dealing with a very young foal, your veterinarian will do a full physical examination as well as blood work and a fecal examination. An elevated white blood cell count will indicate the presence of an infection. If the joints are noticeably swollen, your veterinarian may insert a needle into the joint and draw a sample of the fluid. Elevated white blood cells will also be seen in the joint fluid.
X-rays may be ordered to ensure that there is no bone fracture or other issues with the skeletal system of your foal. X-rays can also show if the infection has spread from the joint into the bone.
Treatment of Joint Ill in Horses
Once your veterinarian has definitely diagnosed joint ill in your foal, he will start an aggressive treatment plan. Antibiotics will be tailored to target the specific type of bacteria that is causing the infection. Your foal will need to be kept on these antibiotics for about three weeks after the lameness and swelling within the joint has been resolved.
Your veterinarian will lavage the affected joint. To lavage a joint means that a needle will be inserted into the joint and water or a sterile solution will be dispensed, washing the affected joint. This will aid in flushing out the inflammation and bacteria within the joint. This will relieve some of the swelling and reduce some of the irreparable damage that can occur with joint ill.
If your foal is exhibiting signs of diarrhea, your veterinarian will address that as well. Diarrhea in a young foal can be fatal and needs to be stopped as quickly as possible. Anti-diarrhea medications will be given.
Keep your foal confined with its mother for a period of time; your veterinarian will give you a timeline. This will prevent your foal from over exercising or bearing excessive weight on the joints. A large box stall or a small paddock will work to keep your foal confined.
Recovery of Joint Ill in Horses
In most cases, if the joint ill is diagnosed quickly and aggressive treatments begun immediately, foals make a full recovery. As soon as you notice anything is off with your foal, make an appointment with your veterinarian to have a diagnosis made.
There are some cases where the infection has spread too quickly for treatments to be effective and the foal does expire. In other cases, the foal makes a partial recovery where some form of lameness will remain. The foal can mature into adulthood but will be a special needs horse for its lifetime.