Umbilical infections in foals

Ultrasound image of a normal umbilical artery and urachus. Image courtesy apphorse.com

By Lauren Lamb, DVM

The umbilical stump (navel) is the remnant of the umbilical cord. The umbilical cord contains large vessels (umbilical artery and vein), which transport blood between the fetus and the placenta within the uterus. The umbilical cord also contains the urachus, which is a tube that is responsible for carrying urine from the foal’s bladder to a portion of the placenta. The umbilical cord will rupture one to two inches from the foal’s body wall when the mare stands after giving birth. Just prior to the umbilical cord rupturing, the blood flow within the umbilical artery and vein will stop. The umbilical remnant will contain the umbilical artery, vein and urachus.

The umbilical remnant, in a newborn foal (first few hours), will look like a moist string or worm hanging down from the foal’s belly button. Within 24 to 48 hours, the umbilical remnant should shrivel up and look like a dry twig or scab. The umbilical remnant should be dipped in dilute 1 percent iodine betadine three to four times within the first 24 hours of life. The iodine will help dry the umbilical remnant and prevent bacteria from traveling up the remnant and entering the foal’s body.

The dried portion of the umbilical remnant should remain dry and eventually fall off as the foal ages. To help decrease the chances of an umbilical infection, always use exam gloves when palpating the umbilical remnant.

Clinical signs that a foal has an umbilical infection can vary depending on the location of the umbilical infection.

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Ultrasound image of an abscess within the umbilical remnant. Image courtesy sciencedirect.com