The colicky foal can be challenging, noted Bill Bernard, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., during the Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates Reproduction Symposium. "Abdominal pain in the foal can be a frustrating diagnostic challenge as the differential diagnoses are extensive," said Bernard. "However, armed with thorough knowledge of the more common causes of pain, complete physical examination findings, the use of the diagnostic tools available, and common sense, the clinician can reduce the list of possible causes to a short list of differentials. From this list a diagnosis can generally be made through exclusion and careful monitoring of progress or lack of response to therapy."

The first thing to decide in a foal with abdominal pain is if the colic is surgical or non-surgical, said Bernard. He stressed the importance of observance "before you jump on it" and start taking vitals and administering medications. He said there are a variety of problems that clients perceive as colic, but, for example, the foal could be laying down a lot because of lameness.

In observing the foal, note whether the abdomen is distended or tucked up. "The latter is less likely to be surgical," said Bernard. He also said the veterinarian will need to characterize the pain. "The foal might by lying on its back and ulcers can be a cause, but so can other things," he noted. Is the pain non-responsive to treatment? Is it is progressive? Then it could be surgical. However, he warned, beware of a foal which is beyond pain; it could have something twisted and be close to death.

Bernard stressed the importance of monitoring vital signs and noting changes, as well as getting as much information from the client as possible. These might include:
� Have there been or are there currently any problems with other animals on the farm, such as fevers or diarrhea, this breeding season or last? For example, outbreaks of diarrhea are common, and abdominal pain often precedes obvious signs of diarrhea.
� Has the patient in question had previous or current problems or therapies that might predispose to gastrointestinal disease? Antibiotic therapy can frequently lead to disruption of normal flora with subsequent gastrointestinal tract upsets.
� Have there been changes in management, including feeding practices?
� When was the last time the individual was observed before noticing the abdominal pain? Foals with sever prolonged colic may be "beyond pain" in a state of severe depression to stupor.
� What were the signs of pain, and were there any other signs noted? Nuerologic signs can sometimes manifest as abdominal pain, and bruxism might be considered characteristic of gastrointestinal ulcers or at least a lower grade "grinding" pain.

He stressed that the foal�s mucous membranes and the whites around the eyes should be monitored for changes, which could indicate a serious problem. In looking at other vital signs, he said pulse is the most important. A persistent heart rate of 120 in a foal suggests a surgical lesion, said Bernard. Respiratory rate and temperature also should be monitored in the foal.

He said a rectal exam can be done to some extent in a foal, but radiography and especially ultrasound is very useful in foals. He also suggests routine lab tests. Other causes of abdominal pain can include problems with the respiratory tract, fractured ribs, meconium impaction, fecaliths (stones in the intestines, especially in miniature foals), or a ruptured bladder.


About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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