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Foal Diarrhoea

Scone Equine Hospital - Thursday, November 30, 2017
Foal Diarrhoea

We often smell Foal Diarrhoea before we even see it, however it is one condition that we should never under estimate! Diarrhoea in a young foal can very quickly lead to dehydration and other ailments if not recognized and treated promptly. As a rule of thumb, any foal that is not feeding off the mare and showing symptoms of diarhhoea, should be seen by a vet immediately.

Clinical signs of Diarrhoea are:

Foal off the suck

Foal sleeping standing up

Increased or decreased temperature

Sunken eyes

Dry mucous membranes

Profuse watery diarrhoea

May appear colicy

May have a distended abdomen

Common causes of diarrhoea are;


Most commonly occurs with the mare’s first oestrus, 5 - 10 days. The foal generally remains bright and continues to nurse well. The duration is usually 2 - 5 days and usually no therapy is required, just cleaning.


Viral Diarrhoea

Rotavirus – Is one of the most common causes of infectious diarrhoea in foals throughout the world. The loss of fluids and electrolytes in the faeces and the fact that the foals are not nursing well means they quickly become dehydrated and can often require treatment with IV fluids.

The virus is associated with gastric ulceration and is highly contagious.

Seen in foals from 2 days to 6 months

Off suck

Increased rectal temperature, followed by breakout with diarrhoea after 1-2 days

Sunken eyes

Dry mucous membranes

Diarrhoea ranges from watery to pasty and from bright yellow to grey in colour, with a very distinct odour.

Clinical signs generally last 6-7 days

Overcrowded conditions increase the likelihood of the disease developing.


E.Coli - Foals with diarrhoea caused by E.coli are generally unwell systemically or are septicaemic.

Salmonella - Rapid onset of clinical signs. The diarrhoea may range from cowpat to profuse, foul smelling liquid.

Increased or decreased rectal temperature

Increased Heart Rate and Respiratory Rate


Zoonotic – highly contagious to humans


Most often seen in foals less than 3 days old. Foals may die of shock before they develop diarrhoea

Acute onset of abdominal pain


Profuse watery or bloody diarrhoea

Faeces may also be bloody


Cryptosporidium parvum (Crypto) - Typically occurs in immuno-compromised foals.

Highly contagious, strict isolation protocols need to be in place.

Zoonotic – highly contagious to humans


Parasitic burden can cause diarrhoea in foals as young as 2 weeks of age. Infection occurs by ingesting milk infected with larvae, or eggs/larvae in faeces.

May show signs of fever, colic and depression

Routine worming of the mare during pregnancy and lactation will help prevent this.


This is relatively common, especially when foals are fed artificial diets. Also due to the consumption of excessive amounts of milk after the foal has been separated from the mare, or over feeding of ill or orphaned foals.

Milk intolerance, with signs of bloat, colic and gastric reflux can occur in sick foal’s with diarrhoea.


Antibiotics may play a role in the development of diarrhoea, primarily due to the alteration of the gut microflora. Discontinuation of the antibiotic treatment if practical is required or

Supply of a supportive therapy, such as yoghurt and gastroprotectants.


Avoid overcrowding in foaling paddocks, especially as the season progresses.

Quarantine visiting horses for at least 2 weeks.

Isolate animals with diarrhoea

Wash hands thoroughly after handling animals with diarrhoea. Best to wear overall and gloves also.

Ensure animals are drenched and vaccinated in accordance with protocols.

Disinfect stalls, crush area etc where diarrhoea foals have been. Rest paddocks.

Young foals with symptoms of diarrhea can deteriorate rapidly. If in doubt, always phone your veterinarian as early detection is always best for a successful outcome.