What is Septicemia (Foals) ?
Many times foals born in a dirty birthing stall or out in the pasture are more susceptible to developing septicemia. Usually, foals will become ill within three to four days of birth. In some cases, the foal is infected with septicemia in-utero. If this occurs the foal will be born in a weakened state or even comatose.
It is important that foals are born within clean conditions. Keeping the birthing stall disinfected and providing clean bedding every day will reduce the risk of septicemia in foals. After every birth, the birthing stall must be scrubbed, preferably with a bleach solution to kill any bacteria that may be present.
Septicemia in foals can be fatal if not treated aggressively and quickly. It is a disease that involves bacteria within the bloodstream. The bacteria then infiltrate the tissues of the foal. The bacterial infection will spread through the tissues and affect bones, joints, organs and the central nervous system.
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Symptoms of Septicemia (Foals) in Horses
Foals are can be fragile with an immature immune system. Therefore, the slightest illness can be fatal. If you notice that your foal is not thriving or seems to be weak, contact your veterinarian for an emergency appointment. Immediate detection and treatments are vital for the survival of your foal. Symptoms of septicemia to watch for include:
- Unable to stand
- Weak suckling
- Refusal to eat
- Excessive sleeping
- Labored breathing
- Swollen joints
- Colic-like symptoms
Causes of Septicemia (Foals) in Horses
Septicemia is a bacterial infection that is caused when bacteria enters the body and then spreads through the bloodstream. Generally, foals that are three to four days old are the most susceptible to septicemia. Those born in dirty conditions are at a higher risk. Septicemia can be fatal if not treated aggressively immediately.
Adult horses can also develop septicemia, but instead of the bacteria entering through an umbilical cord, it occurs when the intestinal barrier has been disturbed. Generally, this is from inflammatory bowel disease or a GI obstruction.
Diagnosis of Septicemia (Foals) in Horses
There is no diagnostic tool available to detect sepsis early. Veterinarians have developed a system that helps identify sepsis at a more treatable stage. Your veterinarian will look at the foal’s medical history, observation of the living conditions and laboratory testing to determine if septicemia is present.
A complete blood count and urinalysis will show the presence of bacteria within the foal. Arterial blood gas analysis will also help in diagnosing septicemia. A negative blood culture does not definitively rule out septicemia.
Your veterinarian will also look to see what organs, if any, have been affected by the infection. Once a full assessment has been completed and the definitive diagnosis of septicemia has been made, a treatment plan will be set for your foal.
Treatment of Septicemia (Foals) in Horses
Your veterinarian will implement an aggressive treatment plan that will include antibiotics to help reduce the spread of septicemia through the bloodstream.
Antimicrobial medications may also be used along with frequent monitoring, fluid therapy, nutritional support, and cardiovascular support. This generally requires that the foal, or horse of any age, be hospitalized during treatment.
Anti-endotoxin therapy may be recommended if there are GI disturbances or other illnesses within the abdominal cavity. Supportive care along with round the clock checks will be required for your foal. Most medications required will be administered through an IV.
Your veterinarian will discuss all of your treatment options for your foal and help you make the best choice. Immediate, aggressive treatments are required for a foal diagnosed with septicemia. Be sure to administer all medications as prescribed to ensure their maximum effect. If you are unsure of dosing instructions or concerned about any side effects, contact your veterinarian for assistance.
Recovery of Septicemia (Foals) in Horses
Septicemia in foals is fatal if not treated quickly and aggressively. Even then, some foals still do not make it. Speak with your veterinarian about your foal’s prognosis and recovery time. By hospitalizing your foal, recovery time may be increased as opposed to keeping your foal housed in your stable with its mother.
Prevention is the best way to avoid septicemia in foals. This means maintaining good hygiene, removing any build up of mud or feces on your mare before and after giving birth. Keeping the new foal clean and out of muddy conditions is also important.
Place the expectant mother in the clean, disinfected birthing stall several weeks prior to delivery. This allows her make antibodies that will fight against any pathogens that are commonly found in a foaling environment. Clean the foaling stall daily, disinfect the walls and flooring prior to adding clean bedding.
Once the foal is born, wash mother and foal with warm water to remove any birthing fluids and bacteria. Ask your veterinarian about a solution that can be put on the foal’s umbilical cord to help keep bacteria at bay.