Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal or Newborn, Necrotizing Enterocolitis, Bloody Diarrhea

Synonyms: Clostridium Enterotoxemia, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium dificile Colitis

This is a deadly bacterial infection that causes diarrhea and severe illness in the newborn foal. It can affect multiple foals on a premise and tends to recur year after year. The Clostridial organism is highly persistent in the environment and may survive for years. It is thought that the foal ingests the bacterial spores prior to the first ingestion of colostrum. Bacteria proliferate within the intestine, producing potent toxins that damage the gut wall and cause severe illness.

This disease is a major killer of foals within the first few days of life. The onset is extremely rapid. A foal may be healthy one day, severely ill the next day, and dead the following day. Unlike some of the other conditions, it often affects apparently healthy foals that have had successful passive transfer (IgG>800).

Signs include colic and diarrhea (often bloody). Foals rapidly stop nursing, act depressed, may show signs of colic, and rapidly go into shock.

Diagnosis requires confirmation of toxin presence in foal feces, usually through PCR tests on feces.

Treatment is very difficult. Even with intensive care, these foals are very difficult to save. The intestine is severely damaged. Chances are better at veterinary school and large private practice neonatal ICU units. These foals often will require intravenous nutrition for extended periods of time.


  • Are my other foals at risk?
  • How can I prevent this in future foals?

    SInce this disease is so difficult to treat, prevention is the key. Disinfect foaling quarters carefully. Wash the mare's udder with mild detergent and water, ideally 24 hours prior to foaling. If its possible and practical to bathe the mare the day or two prior to foaling, that will reduce the likelihood of foals ingesting the bacteria as it searches for the udder the first time.

    It's important to ensure good general health and husbandry to reduce the likelihood of this infection. Keep turnout paddocks clean. Vaccinate pregnant mare with Clostridium C&D antitoxin. An effective preventative is to give C&D antitoxin by mouth to newborn foals as directed by your vet.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


    We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.