What are Patent Urachus?
The urachus is the tube that goes from the bladder to the umbilicus while your horse is in the womb and drains the urine from the fetus’ bladder when needed. After the foal is born, the urachus is supposed to fill in or collapse upon itself so there is no opening in the umbilicus (belly button). If this cord does not fill in like it is supposed to, urine will leak from the area and can cause a serious infection. You should always monitor your foal’s umbilical area for the first 7-10 days to watch for leakage, swelling, or any signs of moisture or redness. Acquired patent urachus is almost always associated with an injury or infection and causes the same symptoms, just at a later stage.
Patent urachus in horses is one of the most common abnormalities of the umbilicus in foals. Most of the time, the owner is able to see this abnormality right away by noticing that the foal is urinating from the umbilical area. However, sometimes it goes unnoticed until the foal has an infection, which causes an increased body temperature, cloudy discharge, pain, redness and inflammation of the umbilical area. This type of umbilical infection may be fatal if not caught and treated in time because it can quickly turn into septicemia (blood infection).
Another type of patent urachus is acquired patent urachus, which can happen at any time in a horse’s life due to injury, infection, or other illness. This type is not seen as often, but should be suspected if your horse has more than one case of urinary tract infection, swelling, or discolored cloudy urine.
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Symptoms of Patent Urachus in Horses
The symptoms of patent urachus are not the same in all horses. It depends on the type and severity of the condition. However, most often the signs will include:
- Urinary incontinence (unable to control urination)
- Dribbling urine from the umbilicus (belly button)
- Urinary tract infections (fever, pain, swelling, cloudy discharge)
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
- Scalding of the abdomen and hind legs due to urine leakage from the umbilicus
- Neonatal patent urachus is present at birth
- Acquired patent urachus is usually caused by an injury or infection
Causes of Patent Urachus in Horses
The cause of patent urachus depends on the type:
- Neonatal patent urachus is a congenital birth defect in which the urachus does not properly close after birth
- Acquired patent urachus can be caused by an injury that somehow damages the urachus, causing urine to leak out from the umbilicus
Diagnosis of Patent Urachus in Horses
Patent urachus is often obvious from very early stages in a foal’s life due to the fact that the urine stream will be seen leaking from the navel when the foal is urinating. Because of this development, testing will be suggested which will include an ultrasound to view the bladder and the urachus, and blood work to rule out infection that may accompany the condition. Prompt diagnosis of patent urachus is essential as infection in a young foal can quickly become life threatening.
In an older horse who may have acquired the condition due to trauma, the clinical signs will be very apparent and may also include urine scalding in the abdominal area and on the legs.
Treatment of Patent Urachus in Horses
The most effective way to treat patent urachus is to remove the urachus surgically. The veterinarian will remove the remnants of the urachus, the vein, and artery. The incision in the bladder is then closed as are the abdominal wall and tissues. This is a very safe operation that has a success rate of more than 90%.
The veterinarian may decide that the urachus can be safely cauterized without surgery by applying silver nitrate once per day for several days. Thermocautery or topical penicillin may also be used.
In very mild cases of patent urachus, antibiotics may be started while waiting to see if the issue corrects on its own. If this does not happen in 7-10 days, surgical measures are usually used. Other medications may include pain medication, corticosteroids, and NSAIDS.
Recovery of Patent Urachus in Horses
With treatment, your horse has a good prognosis. Complications such as infection or injury in acquired patent urachus may be more difficult to treat, but if you are able to catch it early enough, prognosis is still good. The area around the navel may need treatment for skin care due to urine scalding; this can be done at home with the use of a barrier cream prescribed by the veterinarian.