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Equine Health Resource

Foal or Newborn, Navel or Umbilicus Seems Swollen & Firm

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

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

    The umbilical stump (navel) is the remnant of the umbilical cord, which contained the large vessels that provided a connection between mare and fetal circulation prior to birth.

    In a newborn foal, the stump is a moist stalk that can be several centimeters long and at least a centimeter in diameter. Within 24 hours, it has shrunken and dried and should feel more like a twig within a flat skin sheath. That skin surrounding the stump should stay flat, cool and non-painful as the foal grows, gradually shrinking down to where it is almost unnoticeable.

    A soft, balloon-like, non-painful swelling of this area may be indicative of an umbilical hernia. Firm and often painful swellings here may be indicative of an umbilical infection. While umbilical hernia can be monitored for a while and treated later, umbilical infection is a very serious problem that needs prompt veterinary attention.


    An umbilical infection can seed bacteria into the blood leading to infected joints (“joint ill”), a life-threatening crisis.

    Due to this, you should call your vet immediately when you notice any swelling of the umbilicus to discuss your findings and concerns.


    Your vet can usually quickly determine the difference between an umbilical infection and a hernia. They use clinical examination and if needed, ultrasound.

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

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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