The UK Equine Showcase held Jan. 20 focused on young horse heath; here is some research presented during the course:

Common Infectious Diseases of the Young Horse 

Young horses are more susceptible to infectious diseases because of the nature of the equine placenta: No maternal antibody is transferred directly to the foal in utero, according to David Horohov, PhD, William Robert Mills chair and professor at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center. 

A foal’s cell mediated immune system is known to be competent, but naïve, said Horhov. Foals are born with an immature immune system that has to develop to produce antibodies on its own over time. However, the initial ingestion of colostrum (the mare’s antibody-rich first milk) allows for passive transfer of immunoglobulins, which provide almost immediate immunity against various infections, all dependent upon quantity and quality of the maternal antibodies. 


“But, foals do not approach adult levels prior to about 3 months old,” Horohov said.


In most cases, foals born without adequate amount of colostral antibodies from the mare are uniquely susceptible to infectious agents, he explained. A failure of passive transfer is not always obvious since the foal does not exhibit any clinical signs until weeks later. Thus, Horohov recommends breeders keep an eye on the neonatal foal and make sure he obtains healthy antibody levels within the first 12 hours.


“Besides adequate colostrum