5 steps for preventing sepsis in newborn horses
Having a newborn foal is an exciting and stressful time! While they are very cute, things can go wrong in a hurry if the proper steps are not taken, particularly as it relates to bacterial infection in foals.
Equine neonatal sepsis
Neonatal sepsis, or septicemia, is one of the most common reasons for newborn foal death. Sepsis is defined as a bacterial that is in the bloodstream, which means that it becomes a system-wide issue.
Foals can become septicemic while in utero due to the mother having a systemic infection, such as endotoxemia and placentitis.
Sepsis in foals can present as joint infections, umbilical infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea.
The most common causes of septicemia occur after the foal’s birth due to:
- The neonatal foal’s new environment is full of microorganisms.
- The fact that the mare does not pass antibodies to the foal through the placenta.
- The foal has an open gut for the first 24 hours of life.
What is an “open gut”?
Foal’s have an “open gut” for the first 24 hours after birth. This allows them to absorb protective immunoglobulins, or antibodies (immune system support), from the mare’s colostrum.
Foals are born with a naive immune system. Since the mare does not pass immunoglobulins to the baby foal while in utero (through the placenta), foals rely heavily on passive transfer (from mare to foal) of antibodies through colostrum.
On the other hand, an “open gut” also allows for bacteria and microorganisms to pass through the foal’s digestive tract. Common bacterial infections in foals include E. coli, Streptococcus spp., and Staphylococcus spp.
Because foals can so easily contract infections through the gut, even if all precautions have been taken, prevention with high quality probiotics can assist in boosting the immune system in the first week of life.
Clinical signs of infection in foals
- Foal is nursing less or not at all
- Weak and lethargic
- Foal diarrhea
- Swollen umbilicus
- Swollen joints
- Milk coming from the nose
- Slow capillary refill time
- Abnormal or strange behavior
Preventing bacterial infections in foals in 5 easy steps
- Provide a clean foaling stall both pre- and post-birth.
- Clean the foal’s umbilicus after it is on the ground. After the umbilical cord naturally breaks, the foal’s navel should be dipped in dilute chlorhexidine or iodine 3-4 times per day for the first few days of life. This will help dry up the umbilicus and prevent any infection.
- Work with your veterinarian to test your foals’ antibody/immunoglobulin status at 12-24 hours after birth. This stall-side test can determine if the foal has absorbed adequate antibodies for immune system protection.
- Call your veterinarian at the first sign that something is not quite right. Time is of the essence for newborn horses!
- Finally, our personal favorite: Use Foal Kick Start on the first day of life and Foal Probiotic Paste on days 2-7. Our veterinarian-formulated probiotics, specifically designed for foals, can prevent common foaling problems through protection of the intestinal lining.
For more information and for easy administration, check out our complete Foal Starter Kit today.