As feisty as they might be, foals remain relatively delicate in their first few weeks to months of life. Umbilical (“belly button”) issues occur frequently and can essentially clip an otherwise healthy foal’s wings, requiring intense veterinary care.

Laia Reig, BVM (Hons), an equine medicine and surgery intern at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center, in Leesburg, Virginia, said umbilical infection and patent urachus (urine leakage through the umbilicus) commonly affect foals, with both conditions typically requiring surgery.

Although the surgical procedures to correct umbilical issues have been well-described, there was little information regarding postsurgical events, complications, and outcomes. To offer a clearer picture of “what to expect after expecting,” Reig and colleagues reviewed medical records from 82 foals with umbilical issues. She presented their results at the 2017 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Nov. 17-21 in San Antonio, Texas.

The research team found that:

  • Surgical management of conditions affecting umbilical structures resulted in nearly a 90% success rate, measured by survival to discharge;
  • The urachus was the culprit behind umbilical issues in 84% of cases, being either infected or patent;
  • Two-thirds of foals were male;
  • Almost two-thirds of foals with umbilical issues had concurrent conditions requiring treatment, most commonly diarrhea and septic (infected) joints;
  • Foals diagnosed with septic joints prior to surgery were less likely to survive post-operatively, and;
  • Failure of passive transfer (the inadequate absorption of antibodies from the mare’s colostrum) and longer time under anesthesia to treat umbilical concerns were associated with an increased risk of postoperative complications. Reig said this was likely because multiple procedures had to be performed during the same anesthetic event to correct multiple conditions concurrently in very young foals.

Summing it up, Reig said, “Surgical management of infected and/or patent umbilical remnants has a good prognosis overall. However, pre-existing joint infections and development of joint infections postoperatively decrease survival. In fact, 39% of (those) foals suffered postoperative complications.”