What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Foal or Newborn, Swollen Limb or Leg


A young foal with a swollen leg is an emergency. There are many potential causes for leg swelling, but the most serious is a septic (infected) joint, which requires immediate veterinary attention. Horse owners often incorrectly attribute swelling or lameness to traumatic injury by the mare, but this is actually very uncommon. What is more common is joint infection, which is life-threatening.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the foal is not as bright as normal or not nursing normally.
    • If you notice any lameness or have any other concern.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this seems mild and the foal seems vigorous otherwise.
    • If you do not notice any lameness or stiffness.

your role


What To Do

Keep the mare and foal in a small corral until a vet can examine them. Before the vet arrives, assess the foal's attitude and appetite. Take the foal's rectal temperature, if you can do so easily and with confidence. Take note of the appearance of the umbilicus and consider whether you have noticed any diarrhea.

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that a swollen joint or leg in a foal is a traumatic injury. Instead recognize the danger and risk of septic joint and promptly discuss the problem with your vet.

Do not handle the foal if you are not confident in doing so.

your vet's role

Your vet evaluates a leg swelling to rule out septic joint or tendon sheath. This requires physical examination and a variety of other diagnostic tests. Confirmation may require needle sampling of the joint fluid for infection. A proper diagnosis is critical to the life of the foal.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the foal?
  • Do you notice any lameness?
  • Does the foal appear healthy otherwise?
  • Is the foal active and nursing?
  • Did the foal stand and nurse normally after foaling?
  • Was the foal examined after birth by a veterinarian?
  • Was an IgG antibody test done on the foal after birth?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
more treatments

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP