Supportive Care for Foals with Pharyngeal Dysfunction

A recent study suggests that with supportive care affected foals can lead healthy and productive lives.
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Little is known about what causes pharyngeal dysfunction—a defect in the muscle or nerve functions of the pharynx—in newborn foals. This important area of anatomy, where the paths for air and food or liquids intersect, was the topic of interest recently for a team of researchers who completed a study on the prognosis of foals with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) associated with pharyngeal dysfunction. The good news? Many of these foals went on to live healthy and productive lives.

In the study, a team of researchers led by Susan Holcombe, VMD, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, a professor at Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine, reviewed medical records of 16 neonatal foals admitted to MSU, The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, or Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Ky., from 2000 to 2010. Foals included in the study exhibited a normal to strong suckle, showed dysphagia (milk at the nostrils and/or within the trachea after nursing), and underwent an endoscopic examination of the airway.

During hospital admission the 10 colts and six fillies received antimicrobials to treat or prevent lung infections. Ten received nutrition through a nasogastric tube for one to 14 days before nursing. One of those foals then was fed from a bucket for three days to limit milk volume and prevent milk from running down the trachea. The foal then was returned to nursing.

Five foals were not fed with a feeding tube: Three were removed from the mares for 24 hours and given intravenous infusions of fluids and dextrose before being reintroduced to nurse successfully within two days, and two stayed on the mares because of the owners’ concerns

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