Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal or Newborn, Soft Balloon of Swelling on Lower Belly

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the foal is showing signs of colic pain along with this sign.
  • If the swelling is large, painful or growing rapidly.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the foal appears otherwise normal, i.e. is active and nursing normally.
  • If the condition does not seem to be causing pain or other problem.

The most common problem that results in a protrusion of swelling from the lower belly of a foal is an umbilical hernia. It is a common congenital (genetic) defect most often seen in foals and growing horses. By adulthood most have been surgically corrected or resolved.

An infected umbilicus is usually a firmer, less moveable swelling, but can look similar. Foals with infected umbilicus need immediate veterinary attention.


If you see lower belly swelling in a foal, start by assessing the foal’s general health. Foals with simple umbilical hernia act normal and do not resent gentle pressing of the swelling.

Gently push on the swelling with your fingertips. An umbilical hernia should feel like a fluidy balloon within the swelling and if you push upward, this should slip up into the belly through a break in the belly wall called the hernia ring. Once the sac has slipped up through the ring, you can feel the size of this “hole” in the body wall with your fingertips. Larger holes in the body wall are less likely to resolve on their own and will require surgical closure.

Typically, an umbilical hernia contains bowel or other abdominal tissue in a hernia sac. If bowel tissue becomes entrapped in a hernia, it can be strangled off, a life-threatening emergency. In this case, you would expect the swelling to feel hard and possibly painful. In most cases, the horse or foal with trapped bowel would also show signs of abdominal pain (colic). The risk of bowel entrapment is the reason that umbilical hernias (or any swelling here) should be promptly evaluated by a vet.


Your vet uses their clinical exam to get a sense of the problem and differentiate hernia from other causes of swelling. If they determine the swelling is a hernia, then considering the age of the foal, and size of the hernia, they will give you treatment options. Ultrasound is very useful in assessing the nature of soft tissue swelling here and elsewhere.

What Not To Do

Do not take a wait and see approach without first consulting with your vet.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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