Nutrition For Critically Ill Foals

A major challenge in veterinary hospitals is providing nutrients to critically ill foals that are weak or unable to nurse. In these situations, parenteral nutrition (PN) is provided via an IV catheter. In a recent study researchers found that adding lipids (fats) as a source of energy to intravenous nutrient infusions didn't increase the risk of complications or decrease survival rates of critically ill foals.

"Providing adequate nutrition is a very important aspect of neonatal intensive care because neonates have small nutritional reserves, and they will very quickly develop a catabolic (breaking down the body's energy stores) state," said Julia Krause, DVM, a researcher in the study. "In cases of malnutrition, there is a lack of energy to meet metabolic demands, and furthermore, malnutrition has been associated with a negative influence on immune response."

There are several complications associated with PN, the most common of these being hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). However, researchers said that the PN formulation did not significantly increase the occurrence of complications or decrease survival rates of foals.

"This finding is important because this shows that there are no medical contraindications for using lipid-containing solutions, which deliver more adequate levels of energy to the foal," Krause explained. "The study also shows that severely ill foals are more prone to PN-associated complications and have a poor outcome, which can help practitioners in establishing a prognosis for the animal and improve accurate client information in regard to prognosis."

Although PN is normally only used in referral hospitals, Krause said, "The study helps to increase awareness of the importance of adequate nutrition as an aspect of neonatal intensive care, and it shows that the more expensive lipid-containing solutions are beneficial to the foals by supplying more energy without having detrimental side effects."

This study appeared in the January 2007 edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal, p. 74.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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