by Brittany Silvers

What you need to know about joint ill in foals

What you need to know about joint ill in foals

One day you have a happy and healthy foal, running and playing, exploring the world around them and learning new things. Suddenly, they seem different; they seem more lethargic, have a gimp to their step, and seem to have swollen knees. You call your vet, and they suggest they see them right away, knowing these symptoms may indicate joint ill.

What is joint ill? 

Joint ill, also known as septic arthritis in foals, usually occurs in newborn horses less than one month of age (1). This disease is caused by bacterial infection that has become systemic and has invaded the joint and potentially bone as well (1,2). 

Generally, foals that become joint ill will contract this bacterial infection through the umbilical cord. However, it is also possible for it to be obtained through inhalation of bacteria in areas that are overcrowded or have poor ventilation, when the mare has suffered from placentitis, or when proper passive immunity hasn’t been passed from the mare to the foal in colostrum (1,2). 

Clinical signs of joint ill

It is important to keep an eye on foals very closely, as those who develop septic arthritis will need to be treated very quickly. The primary symptoms are sudden lameness and heated, swollen joints in the foal. 

Additionally, foals may have swelling or drainage around the umbilical cord, gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, respiratory problems such as coughing, appear lethargic or depressed, and foals will likely have a fever due to the body trying to fight the infection (1,2).

When your vet examines your foal, they will likely need to use several techniques to diagnose the septic arthritis. A full clinical exam will be performed, blood samples will be obtained, and radiographs of the suspected joint may be taken along with synovial fluid samples (1,2). 

Cell counts in the blood can be analyzed, and synovial fluid samples can be cultured to determine which bacteria needs to be treated (1,2). 

Joint ill in foals treatment

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, treatment should be rapid and aggressive. A broad-spectrum antibiotic is the first treatment to provide. The vet may determine that the foal needs antibiotic flushes of the infected joints, but a systemic antibiotic treatment is the primary focus (1,2). Additionally, it is likely that they will be provided with IV fluids, anti-ulcer treatments, and be restricted from exercise (1).

The antibiotics provided to the foal will help to kill any bad bacteria that is causing the infection; however, it will not be selective, and will also end up destroying good bacteria in the foal’s body as well. 

While this treatment is necessary, it is important to provide supportive care to combat negative side effects of strong antibiotic treatment. Oral probiotics can be provided to help stabilize the gut microbiome and ensure gut health throughout treatment. 

FullBucket’s Foal Probiotic Paste is the first probiotic of its kind, with multiple solutions in one tube, specifically designed for foals. Providing your baby horse with Foal Probiotic Paste will help re-establish the healthy bacteria that lives in their gut and promote optimal digestive and immune system health to further help your foal fight their infection.

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