Foal diarrhea, What is the Cause?

(Courtesy of Lauren Lamb)

By Lauren Lamb

Your broodmare is due to foal any day. You have spent countless hours searching the internet for information regarding newborn foals (medical care, handling, etc.). Finally, the foal arrives and the foaling process goes as planned. You make sure the foal gets his colostrum within the first 12 hours of birth because that is what the internet says to do, and you dip his umbilical cord in betadine. The next morning you come out to check on the fragile precious package and all seems fine. Then it happens, an owner’s worst nightmare. At 36 hours of age, your foal has diarrhea, seems depressed and is not nursing. The next thoughts going through your head will most likely include the following:

  • Do I call my veterinarian?
  • Is this life threatening?
  • Did I do something wrong?
  • What can possible cause my precious foal to have diarrhea at this age?
  • Is this foal heat diarrhea?

The list of questions can go on and on when your foal has diarrhea. In this article we will discuss the main causes for foal diarrhea, clinical signs of infectious diarrhea, help differentiate between infectious and foal heat diarrhea and list some of the treatment and preventative measures for foal diarrhea.

Foal diarrhea can be broken down into infectious and non-infectious diarrhea. Non-Infectious diarrhea is caused by changes in the gastrointestinal tract’s normal flora. Flora is another name for the good bacteria living inside the intestine. Foal heat diarrhea is the most common cause of non-infectious diarrhea.

Foal heat diarrhea is seen in foals between the ages of five-14 days. The thought that foal heat diarrhea is secondary to changes in the mare’s milk is an old wives’ tale. The true cause of foal heat diarrhea stems from the foal exploring its surrounding environment. Similar to a human baby, foals will put anything and everything in their mouth as they begin to explore the world around them. During this time, they will also practice coprophagy (eating feces), which may sound nasty, but it is how the foal establishes a normal bacterial flora population in its gastrointestinal tract.

For additional information, pick up the May issue of OKFR!