University veterinarians save newborn foal

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The Texas A&M Large Animal Teaching Hospital team used intensive care, special techniques, and surgery to save the German warmblood

Newborn foal, Vicky, cared for by the LATH team. (Photo by Jason Nitsch ’14 / Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

Newborn foal, Vicky, cared for by the LATH team. (Photo by Jason Nitsch ’14 / Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

Soon after birth, a German warmblood foal nicknamed Vicky, became separated from her mother, Queenie, after rolling into an adjoining stall. Just a few hours apart creates serious consequences because Vicky could not receive the special care a mother horse typically provides in the initial hours of a foal’s life.1 Because of the situation's severity, the foal was rushed to the Texas A&M Large Animal Teaching Hospital (LATH) by owner, Gavin Britz, MD, MBBCH, MPH, MBA, FAANS, a human neurosurgeon for Houston Methodist in Texas.

Britz purchased Queenie while she was pregnant. Because of transportation delays, Queenie didn't arrive at Britz’s stable in Chappell Hill, Texas, until about 2 1/2 weeks before her due date. Unexpectedly, Queenie went into labor earlier than anticipated, resulting in Britz missing Queenie giving birth. According to a news article from Texas A&M,1 the barn manager found Vicky in the adjoining stall hours later, but the foal had already missed out on colostrum, which is a preliminary form of milk that contains extra nutrients, antibodies, and antioxidants that is normally passed from mother to baby in the first few hours after birth.

“If a foal doesn’t get colostrum in the first few hours of life, developing sepsis is a huge risk, because they are born without an immune system, so they can’t fight off any insult to their little bodies unless they get important antibodies from the mare,” Amanda Trimble, BVMS, MS, PGCertVetEd, DACVIM (LAIM), a clinical assistant professor of equine internal medicine at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, said in a news release.1

Britz has close relations working with graduates and veterinarians at the Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and felt comfortable putting his horse’s care in their hands. “When we found her, the baby was not doing well,” Britz said in the release.1 “We contacted the local vet, who said to bring her down to their hospital. After we took her there, they said she probably wasn’t going to survive, but we could try and take her to Texas A&M.”

When Vicky first arrived at the hospital, she was reported as extremely weak, not nursing well, and showing an abnormally lethargic demeanor. Her mother, Queenie accompanied the foal to the hospital.

Vicky with her mother, Queenie. (Photo by Jason Nitsch ’14 / Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

Vicky with her mother, Queenie. (Photo by Jason Nitsch ’14 / Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences)

“Vicky had what we call neonatal sepsis and failure of passive transfer — basically, she had a bacterial infection that was making her sick. She also hadn’t nursed and wasn’t getting the nutrients she needed for energy, so she was very weak,” said Trimble.

Vicky was treated with intravenous fluids and supplemental glucose to make up for the loss of nutrition; plasma for antibodies and immune system support; and antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to address the infection and pneumonia. Initial evaluation after these treatments showed that Vicky still had low energy, so the veterinary team also applied a technique called the Madigan squeeze, which can stimulate neural pathways that are normally stimulated during birth.1

“Essentially, it’s like we re-birthed her,” Trimble explained. “We apply a nice, steady pressure around the thorax for 20 minutes, and it feels like going through the birth canal again and something resets.”1

This can be necessary if a foal is experiencing neonatal maladjustment syndrome which causes neurological abnormalities like confusion, disorientation, or unresponsiveness.2 Neonatal maladjustment syndrome affects 1% to 2% of foals and can occur with rapid deliveries, like in Queenie and Vicky’s case.1,2

After these prompt treatments, Vicky was showing signs of improvement until the foal’s umbilicus began developing a serious infection. “Her umbilicus wasn’t completely normal the first week, but we weren’t as concerned as we were about the sepsis initially. We wanted her to stabilize before we took her to surgery,” Trimble said. “The thing that we worry about with umbilical infection is that abscesses can form internally, and because of where all the blood vessels go from the umbilicus, the infection can spread to other organs as well,” she added.1

Dustin Major, DVM, DACVS (LA), a clinical assistant professor of large animal surgery, removed the umbilicus and its internal vessels to ensure the infection was gone. This allowed Vicky to make a complete and full recovery.1

Trimble attributes Vicky’s recovery to the LATH’s incredible work and the barn manager’s speedy action in bringing the foal to the hospital. “Infants can get sick really quickly; they can be fine one day and then the next day they might need this level of care,” she said. “Fast recognition is important, as well as knowing the normal milestones that a healthy, happy foal should be meeting. If they’re not meeting them, having the owner or the caretaker recognize that and getting them veterinary care is key to the foal surviving.”

References

  1. Bennett M. Texas A&M veterinarians work around the clock to save newborn foal. News release. Texas A&M Today. May 8, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://today.tamu.edu/2024/05/08/veterinarians-save-newborn-foal/
  2. Young A. Neonatal maladjustment syndrome in foals. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Center for Equine Health. May 10, 2021. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://ceh.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/neonatal-maladjustment-syndrome-foals
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