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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • colostrum;
  • endotoxaemia;
  • failure of passive transfer;
  • neonate;
  • septicaemia

Summary

Fourteen mares and their foals were attended at parturition. After mare-foal bonding, 8 colostrum-deprived (CD) foals were removed from their dams, deprived of colostrum, and provided with an alternative milk source for the first 24 h of life. The mares were milked out every 2–4 h during this period to remove colostrum, after which the CD foals were returned to their mares and allowed to nurse. Six colostrum-fed (CF) foals were allowed to suck colostrum in the normal manner. Foal serum IgG concentration was determined by single radial immunodiffusion (means, CD = 0 mg/dl; CF = 1,508 mg/dl). Accepted methods were used to minimise infections in the neonatal foals. Of the 8 CD foals, 7 demonstrated clinical signs of sepsis. Septicaemia was confirmed in 5 of the 7 septicaemic CD foals by ante-mortem blood culture or by culture of tissue at necropsy. Organisms isolated included: Actinobacillus equuli, Escherichia coli, undifferentiated coliforms, Pseudomonas spp., and Actinomyces pyogenes. Clinically ill foals were treated with antimicrobial drugs, intravenous fluid therapy, flunixin meglumine, and anti-endotoxin hyperimmune serum. Three septicaemic CD foals survived. Four of 7 septicaemic CD foals died or were destroyed. Post-mortem lesions included bacterial embolic pneumonia, glomerulonephritis/nephritis, lymphoid depletion/atrophy, splenic and lymphoid necrosis, hepatitis, septic arthritis, and systemic bacterial embolism. None of the CF foals bècame septicaemic. One CF foal had foal heat diarrhoea and 1 CF foal had a serum IgG concentration of 160 mg/dl (i.e. failure of passive transfer), but both foals were otherwise normal. Despite the precautions taken to prevent infection in these foals, the severity, rapidity of disease onset, and extent of this outbreak of septicaemia in CD foals demonstrate the importance of colostral immunity in protecting neonatal foals from opportunistic and pathogenic bacterial infection.