Diseases in neonatal foals. Part 1: The 30 day incidence of disease and the effect of prophylactic antimicrobial drug treatment during the first three days post partum



Reasons for performing study: Neonatal diseases have been grouped and analysed but up-to-date statistically significant information about the incidence and prevalence of diseases in foals is limited. Since the 1950s it has been a common management practice to administer a 3 day course of antimicrobial drugs to neonatal foals. This was shown to significantly reduce the incidence of infections (Platt 1977). Since then management practices have improved and it is widely believed that prophylactic antimicrobial drugs are no longer necessary in foal rearing.

Objectives: To determine the 30 day incidences or prevalences (depending on case definition) of various diseases and conditions in the neonatal foal and ascertain the influence of a prophylactic 3 day treatment on the frequency of infections.

Methods: The population consisted of Thoroughbred foals born on stud farms in the Newmarket (UK) area in 2005 (n = 1031). Depending on the stud farm's practice in the use of prophylactic antimicrobial drugs, 2 groups of newborn foals (treated and untreated) were identified and followed for 30 days.

Results: The 30 day incidences of infectious diseases under study were between 0.2% (osteomyelitis) and 5.85% (systemic disease with diarrhoea). The overall incidence for ‘total infectious diseases’ was 8.27%. The most commonly observed noninfectious condition was limb deformities (12.11% of all foals). There was no significant difference in the incidence of infectious diseases between the 2 groups.

Conclusion: Infectious diseases are still an important problem in neonatal foals requiring further investigation as to which factors other than antimicrobial prophylaxis are relevant for disease prevention.

Potential relevance: The results provide an up-to-date overview about the frequencies of various neonatal foal diseases. They do not support the traditional prophylactic use of antimicrobials to prevent infectious diseases in healthy newborn foals. However, it should be noted that this study was not a randomised controlled trial and therefore does not provide the strongest possible evidence for this conclusion.