Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Foal Lameness, Under 1 Month Old

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 this is a slowly but consistently worsening problem and you are unsure of the cause.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.

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

  • If the lameness is mild.

Newborn foal lameness is different than lameness in adults. Due to the fragile nature of foals and the potential for very severe lameness, vets consider foal lameness especially urgent.

Lameness in young foals (under 30 days old) should be presumed to have an infected joint or tendon sheath until proven otherwise. Infected joints and tendons sheaths in young horses result from blood-borne infections.

A septic joint is an emergency. The prognosis, even with aggressive treatment, worsens by the hour if left untreated. While there are other causes of lameness, this is the one to watch for and the one for which early intervention makes the greatest difference.

WHAT TO DO

Contact your vet immediately, because if your foal has a septic joint, prompt diagnosis and treatment is necessary.

It may be hard to evaluate the foal’s limbs without a helper experienced in the handling of foals. Check the foal’s limb for swelling and heat. Assess the foal, especially considering rectal temperature, severity of lameness and whether or not there is visible swelling anywhere on the limb. Always lift the limb and inspect the sole of the hoof for a foreign body or material. Joints can also be seeded by an infected naval. Gently feel the umbilicus for heat or swelling.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will evaluate the foal carefully to rule out joint infection and rule in the cause of lameness. We cannot typically perform the classic, methodical lameness exam on young, un-handled foals. We do not often use flexion exams or diagnostic anesthesia.

On the other hand, there is less muscle covering the structures of the limb, so it can be easier to find the source of the problem through a physical exam. We are also able to use ultrasound and radiography to penetrate more of the smaller body and limbs of the foal.

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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