During the first 30 days of life, foals are especially sensitive to bacteria and other dangers commonly found in their surroundings. Each year between January and June, dozens of these foals are brought to Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center for treatment where the hospital staff works diligently to return the critically ill young animals to full health.

“We work with extremely compromised patients that sometimes arrive to us with diseases involving multiple organs,” said Anne Desrochers, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, clinical assistant professor in equine medicine. “It is very fulfilling to see many of these little babies go home happy and healthy after having been so sick.”

Common problems that can affect foals include prematurity, neonatal sepsis (infection), hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (brain damage resulting from a lack of oxygen which is also known as “dummy foal”), and diarrhea.

Due to their delicate nature, neonates that are brought in for emergency treatment are always seen first by members of the hospital’s internal medicine team who specialize in the physiologic interaction among internal body systems. These board certified experts oversee and implement their care along with help from residents, interns and nurses.

“The nature of a neonate’s illness can be more volatile because their immune defenses are not quite as vigorous as those of adults,” said Martin Furr, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, PhD, the Adelaide C. Riggs chair in equine medicine.

Furr notes that all horses have very sensitive organ systems that can be damaged by sitting or lying down for extended periods of time. A foal’s small size (the average healthy neonate weighs approximately 100-120 lbs) allows the clinicians to prevent this problem by moving the patient often and repositioning their body as needed.

“Their small size enables us to manage their po