Horse owners should watch for signs of joint ill

Olivia McClure, Walker, Neely  |  4/15/2015 9:35:08 PM

News Release Distributed 04/15/15

BATON ROUGE, La. – With breeding season underway, it is important for horse owners to pay attention to lameness in foals — a potential sign of a bacterial infection that causes joint ill.

LSU AgCenter equine specialist Neely Walker said several cases of joint ill have recently come into the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Joint ill, also known as septic arthritis, can leave lasting effects of animals’ overall soundness and athletic performance, and can be life threatening if not treated appropriately, Walker said.

The infection commonly results from bacteria that enter through the foal’s umbilicus, but bacteria that is inhaled or found in the gastrointestinal tract can also be responsible.

“If the foal has a decreased immune system and is unable to fight off the infection, it rapidly spreads throughout the bloodstream, resulting in an infection of the joint,” Walker said.

Owners should watch for two key symptoms: a sudden onset of lameness and joint swelling. Foals with a related gastrointestinal or respiratory infection may also exhibit fever, diarrhea, decreased nursing, coughing or nasal discharge, Walker said. If the umbilicus is involved, swelling and drainage may occur.

To diagnose joint ill, veterinarians will conduct a joint fluid sample, a complete blood count, radiographs of the suspected joint, ultrasonography of the umbilical structures and a thorough physical examination.

If joint ill is suspected, immediate broad spectrum antibiotic treatment is recommended to reduce the chances of a permanently damaged joint. Depending on the severity of the infection and the affected area, joint flushing, anti-inflammatory medication, surgical cleaning of the joint and anti-ulcer treatments may be required, Walker said.

Despite advancements in the treatment of septic arthritis, prognosis of foals with joint ill is guarded. Research suggests that between 42 and 81 percent of foals survive, Walker said.

“Most commonly, foals respond well to the treatment of the infected joint, but suffer from other problems associated with reduced immunity due to failure of passive transfer or secondary issues from long term clinical treatment,” she said.

In any case, early treatment is critical and can reduce long-term effects, Walker said. Contact a veterinarian immediately if your foal exhibits symptoms of joint ill.

Olivia McClure

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