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


Foal or Newborn, Navel or Umbilicus Seems Swollen & Firm


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.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

Do not treat the umbilicus with harsh disinfectants. It increases the likelihood of infection.

your vet's role

Your vet can usually quickly determine the difference between an umbilical infection and a hernia. They use clinical examination and if needed, ultrasound.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the foal?
  • How does the foal's health seem otherwise?
  • Does the area feel soft or firm?
  • Is the foal active and nursing?
  • How is the foal's appetite and attitude?
  • Was the foal examined after birth by a veterinarian?
  • Was the foal's umbilicus treated at birth? How?

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