Placentitis--Caring for the Foals

Closing out the in-depth section on placentitis at the 50th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 4-8, 2004, was Fairfield Bain, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVP, ACVECC, of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, PLLC Department of Internal Medicine and Critical Care in Lexington, Kentucky, who discussed "Management of the Foal from the Mare with Placentitis."

During the foaling season, Bain said, veterinarians are frequently called upon to deal with a foal that is the product of a mare with placentitis. These foals, he said, can range from being extremely early--300 days--with small size and organ function incompatible with life to a full-sized foal nearer to full-term gestation with minimal effects.

Once a mare is diagnosed with placentitis, he said, it is incumbent upon the veterinarian involved to inform the owner about potential outcomes. There are a number of cases, he said, where humane considerations and economics figure into the decision-making process. The underlying message was that treatment of a premature foal in an intensive care facility can be expensive, with no guarantee of a positive outcome.

"Once the decision is made to allow an affected foal to survive," he said, "it should be considered a 'high-risk' neonate and be evaluated and treated accordingly. This should include initial laboratory workup and possibly early treatment for possible birth asphyxia. The physical examination should include assessment of all organ systems--eyes for evidence of hypopyon (an accumulation of pus), lungs for evidence of in utero pneumonia, and placental membranes for patterns of inflammation. Sampling should be done for culture, histopathology, and possibly cytology (cell examination). In many foals that are born early, orthopedic assessment remains a significant part of the decision process, because incomplete ossification of the cuboidal bones, especially in the hocks, remains one of the most important factors in loss of use, and in some cases eventual euthanasia of affected foals."

The most important element in dealing with an at-risk premature foal, Bain said, involves the supportive and nursing care available. "The facilities required for this generally include a stall with capability for heating, padded bedding to prevent pressure sores, and, most importantly, the technical personnel to provide continuous monitoring and nutritional support," he said.

And when all is said and done and the foal should survive, it is still difficult to predict whether it will have normal growth and development, Bain concluded.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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