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Equine Neonatal Septicemia

By: Dr. Mary Rose Paradis

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Before 1980, equine neonatal intensive care did not exist as a field of study. The philosophy of neonatal care was "survival of the fittest." It was generally accepted that sick foals would not grow up to be useful adults. The first decade of equine neonatal intensive care was characterized by a steep learning curve for the veterinarian. The increasing knowledge base and case management skills improved the prognosis of the septic foal from 25 percent to 75 percent survival that we see today.

Follow-up surveys of the survivors of neonatal septicemia demonstrate that the long-term prognosis for septic foals is often good. Owners have indicated that their foals become healthy adults that are comparable to their stablemates in weight, height, soundness and athletic ability. Foals that would have died 20 years ago, go on to become successful race horses and breeding animals. Currently ongoing studies exist that aim to determine the fate of foals surviving neonatal intensive care.

Although our increased knowledge in the treatment of neonatal sepsis has brought about these improved survival rates, sepsis is still one of the most difficult problems we face in neonatal medicine. Owners often feel like they are on an emotional roller coaster because the foal's condition can change rapidly. One day the foal has diarrhea, the next day he has developed infected joints and the third day he needs surgery to have his umbilicus removed.

Each of these problems must be taken care of one at a time. Care remains costly and labor intensive and can range from $2,500 to $5,000 for a 5 day stay in an intensive care facility. The very sick foal may have an attendant with them 24 hours a day. It is important the veterinarian, hospital staff and owner be committed to the care of the septic foal if the outcome is to be favorable.

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