Foal Care When There Are Problems

Failure of Passive Transfer

When a newborn foal fails to obtain the antibodies he needs from his mother in his first hours of life, he can become very sick or even die from septicemia (body-wide infection). Quick identification of failure of passive transfer (FPT) is key to his survival, but the "gold standard" RID IgG test for FPT takes 18-24 hours. By the time those test results come back and treatment is initiated, it could be too late.

J.T. McClure, DVM, MS, of the University of Prince Edward Island, presented the results of a study comparing different types of stall-side tests for FPT. The tests included a glutaraldehyde coagulation test, the CITE ELISA, the SNAP ELISA 1 (2000), and SNAP ELISA 2 (revised version released in 2001).

McClure explained that a good test for FPT needs to be both highly sensitive and highly specific. A highly sensitive test is one that produces very few false negative results, and a highly specific one produces very few false positives.

"By definition, screening tests should have high sensitivity so that very few foals with FPT go unidentified (false negative)," he said. "But we need to be careful not to choose a test with very low specificity because then some foals will be misdiagnosed as having FPT and be subjected to unnecessary and expensive therapy."

McClure noted that the highly sensitive, non-commercial glutaraldehyde coagulation test they used was an excellent screening test for FPT, but should be followed by a confirmatory test in the event of a positive result because of its poor sensitivity. While using RID for confirmation would be best, it would take longer; thus, he noted that the very specific SNAP ELISA 2 could be used as a quick confirmatory test. He said the sensitivity and specificity of these tests when used in combination were 92% and 93%, respectively.

"In conclusion, the CITE ELISA was unacceptable as a screening test for FPT because of its poor sensitivity," McClure stated. "The SNAP ELISA 2 and glutaraldehyde coagulation tests are more appropriate screening tests because they have a high sensitivity. The specificity of the SNAP ELISA 2 test is better than the glutaraldehyde coagulation test. A confirmatory test should be considered when using the glutaraldehyde coagulation test to screen for FPT in foals." (See article #4977 online.)

Abdominal Pain in Foals

Abdominal pain in the foal can have many different causes, making it difficult to diagnose a cause, said Bill Bernard, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Rood and Riddle Hospital in Lexington, Ky. The need for a quick diagnosis is imperative, said Bernard. If surgery is necessary, the time from the onset of problems to surgery can make a difference in the outcome. "If, however, the decision for surgery is made without careful consideration of 'non-surgical' conditions, the outcome may be compromised by an unnecessary procedure," said Bernard.

A complete physical examination might rule out other causes for pain, such as musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, or neurologic disorders. Bernard noted that the foal is not as tolerant of pain as an adult horse, therefore signs of severe pain might not necessarily indicate a severe problem.

When differentiating between surgical and non-surgical disease, vital signs might not allow for a definitive diagnosis. Blood work, abdominocentesis (puncture of the abdomen to evaluate abdominal cavity fluid), nasogastric intubation to evaluate fluid from gastric reflux, gastroscopy to search for gastric ulcers, radiography, and ultrasonography can give valuable clues as to the cause of the abdominal pain.

The most common causes of abdominal pain in a foal include meconium retention, enterocolitis, external or internal herniation, uroperitoneum (the presence of urine in the abdominal cavity), and small intestine volvulus (twisting or displacement). Foals also get gastric ulcers, resulting in mild to severe abdominal pain. A heavy ascarid (roundworm) infestation can cause small intestine impaction. (See article #4957 online.)

When a Foal Needs Surgery


If a new foal develops a problem requiring surgery, time is of the essence, said Rolf Embertson, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. The time from recognition of abdominal pain to arrival of the foal at the clinic, evaluation for surgery, and surgery preparation and execution could affect the prognosis dramatically.

Some surgeries are difficult, he said. These include the ones required to fix an upper digestive tract obstruction usually found at the pylorus (opening from the stomach into the small intestine) or along the descending duodenum (first part of the small intestine).

Strangulation obstructions can occur in the small and large intestines. Non-strangulating small intestine abnormalities needing surgery include intussusceptions (telescoping of one part of intestine into another), impaction with ascarids or ingested feed, and enteritis (intestinal inflammation) with an obstruction. Non-strangulating obstructions in the large intestine include meconium retention and large colon displacement.

It is possible that the foal will rupture his bladder during parturition. Owners should be aware that even after one surgery, the repair site might leak, requiring another surgery.

One upper airway problem seen in some foals is a cleft palate, often characterized by milk coming out of the nostrils. Many of these foals will develop aspiration pneumonia. Surgical repair is difficult, and Embertson said prognosis for an athletic career is poor. (See article #4958 online.)

By Sarah L. Evers and Christy West

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