• Equine;
  • Mortality;
  • Neonate;
  • Sepsis

Background: Sepsis is an important cause for neonatal foal mortality. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPAA) responses to sepsis are well documented in critically ill humans, but limited data exist in foals. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the HPAA response to sepsis in foals, and to associate these endocrine changes with survival.

Hypothesis: Blood concentrations of arginine vasopressin (AVP), adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), and cortisol will be higher in septic foals as compared with sick nonseptic and healthy foals. The magnitude of increase in hormone concentration will be negatively associated with survival.

Animals: Fifty-one septic, 29 sick nonseptic, and 31 healthy foals of ≤7 days of age were included.

Methods: Blood was collected at admission for analysis. Foals with positive blood culture or sepsis score ≥14 were considered septic. Foals admitted with disease other than sepsis and healthy foals were used as controls. AVP, ACTH, and cortisol concentrations were measured using validated immunoassays.

Results: AVP, ACTH, and cortisol concentrations were increased in septic foals. Septic nonsurvivor foals (n = 26/51) had higher plasma ACTH and AVP concentrations than did survivors (n = 25/51). Some septic foals had normal or low cortisol concentrations despite increased ACTH, suggesting relative adrenal insufficiency. AVP, ACTH, and cortisol concentrations were higher in sick nonseptic foals compared with healthy foals.

Conclusions and Clinical Importance: Increased plasma AVP and ACTH concentrations in septic foals were associated with mortality. Several septic foals had increased AVP : ACTH and ACTH : cortisol ratios, which indicates relative adenohypophyseal and adrenal insufficiency.