Joint Ill

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Also Known As

Osteomyelitis, Septic arthritis


Joint ill usually occurs in foals, although it may occur in horses of any age. Joint ill takes several forms, all of them septic in nature since they are evidenced by a break down of tissues in the area leading to sepsis which is a toxic condition resulting from the spread of bacteria and toxic products from an infection.

These conditiions include septic arthritis, septic synovitis, septic physitis, and septic bursitis based on where the infection if localized. Acute heat, swelling, and lameness in or around a joint or tendon sheath is the earliest indication of this infection.


  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Lameness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleepiness


Joint ill begins when bacteria enter the bloodstream and invade the bone or synovial membranes of the joint.

Any type of neonatal infection causing septicemia can cause joint ill and most cases in foals are the result of a navel infection. Bacteria gain entrance through the digestive or respiratory tracts. Often, the first indication of the disease is lameness, accompanied by hot, swollen joints and fever.


Careful treatment of the navel of the newly-born foal is one of the best methods of preventing infections that lead to joint ill. With weanlings and older horses, good sanitation, along with prompt and thorough response to any bacterial or viral infections affecting the digestive or respiratory tracts, will help prevent joint ill.


Treatment of joint ill should begin as soon as the infection is discovered. Massive doses of antibiotics for at least three weeks are often advised by veterinarians.

Joints with septic infections usually need to be irrigated, and at times it is necessary to open the joint to remove pus and debris. A suction drain is inserted and the leg is immobilized.

Stall rest and physical therapy are important for a successful outcome. Because of the seriousness of joint ills, a veterinarian should be consulted and treatments prescribed as early as possible.

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