Pamela Wilkins, a professor of equine internal medicine and emergency/critical care at the University of Illinois has authored a new paper on equine neonatal intensive care which offers guidance to large-animal veterinarians and horse owners while demonstrating the many very real challenges of the job of taking care of the sick foal.
Wilkins’ patients may be the progeny of racehorses or performance horses, but many are also just people’s pets. The cost of care can be high, so owners with a strong economic or emotional incentive are most likely to bring a critically ill foal to the hospital.
Like any other newborn, the neonatal horse can be a challenging patient. Its immune system is still under construction, its blood chemistry can vary wildly, and – like most infants – it wants to stay close to mom. These factors are magnified in the critically ill foal,
According to Wilkins, sickness can play havoc with a foal’s blood chemistry, and teasing out the causes of these changes requires that the veterinarian first understand what is normal in a newborn horse, and then how it can go wrong. To help address current gaps in knowledge, Wilkins regularly conducts blood tests or other tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, on healthy foals to determine how their body chemistry or physiology differ from that of an adult horse – or from that of a sick foal.
“Roughly 3 to 7 percent of newborn foals are going to have some kind of significant health issue in the first month of life,” Wilkins said. “And because our patients can’t talk to us, we have to figure out what’s wrong with them based on physical examination and testing and histories given by their owners.”
The paper, "The Equine Neonatal Intensive Care Laboratory: Point of Care Testing" is available on line or from the University of Illinois News Bureau.