There’s nothing more exciting than watching a newborn foal scampering around a pasture with his dam. Conversely, there’s nothing more heart-wrenching than watching a newborn foal fight for his life after being diagnosed with septicemia: the potentially deadly presence of bacteria or bacterial toxins in the bloodstream. According to Mary Rose Paradis, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, in North Grafton, Mass., diagnosing and treating a septic foal can be a challenge. She spoke about the different manifestations and treatment options at the 2011 Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 20-24 in Las Vegas, Nev.

A broad spectrum of clinical signs characterize septicemia, Paradis said. Early in the illness a foal might be lethargic, nurse less, exhibit increased heart and respiratory rates, and possibly have a fever. As the infection progresses, he might become depressed and exhibit shock, prolonged capillary refill time, low blood pressure, and a thready pulse (a light pulse that is barely perceptible).

Paradis explained that as the infected blood travels throughout the body, it can–and likely will–manifest in several locations.

Respiratory Manifestation

"The most common manifestation of septicemia we see is in the respiratory system," Paradis said, adding that this is likely because the foal’s respiratory system is very vulnerable to infection. Such a manifestation generally presents as