Joint and Physis Infections in Foals

The two radiographs on the left shows a foal’s fetlock. The physis in the canon bone and the fetlock joint have radiographic evidence of an infection. (Photo courtesy of Sciencedirect)

By Lauren Lamb, DVM

During foaling season, owners may notice that a foal is lame and suspect that the foal just got stepped on by the mare. While this could be the cause of the lameness, a more likely cause of this lameness is a septic physis or septic arthritis.
Septic arthritis means the foal has an infected joint. A septic physis means the foal has an infection in the growth plate. Both septic arthritis and a septic physis are life threatening conditions that need to have aggressive medical attention as soon as possible.

Foals have an increased risk of developing a septic joint or physis if they do not receive an adequate amount of colostrum from the mare. This colostrum needs to be in the foal’s gastrointestinal tract within 36 hours of being born. “Failure of passive transfer” is the phrase given to foals that do not receive enough colostrum.

Two common reasons a foal will not receive an adequate amount of colostrum — the foal not being able to stand and nurse the mare properly within the first 36 hours of being born is the most common cause of failure of passive transfer and due to a mare leaking a significant amount of colostrum prior to the foal being born. The colostrum contains anti-bodies that are vital for protecting the foal from infections caused by environmental bacteria.

To read more pick up a copy of the June 2018 NTFR issue. To subscribe call 940-872-5922.