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


Foal Lameness, Under 1 Month Old


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.

  • 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.

your role


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.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Was the foal examined after birth by a veterinarian?
  • Was an antibody test run on the foal?
  • When did you first notice the lameness?
  • Is the foal active and nursing?
  • How severe do you think the lameness is?
  • How old is your foal?
  • What is the foal's temperature?
  • Do you notice that the foal has any swollen joints?

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
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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
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further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP