From the Foaling Barn


Orphan Tails: A Setback

Viktor and Colin Two Weeks After Their Illness


Everything seemed to be progressing with our two orphan foal: both were active and bright and drinking their milk supplement well. But when Colin was three weeks old, one morning I went to make up their morning milk replacer only to find that Colin hadn't drunk any of his overnight ration. When I offered him a fresh bucket, he put his head down to smell it, then walked away. It's common for foals on milk replacement to have loose stools, but now Colin was spewing watery diarhea. For the next six hours I monitored him to see if he was eating. He drank a very small amount and ate a little hay, so I waited to call the vet thinking perhaps Colin was improving. But by late in the afternoon, Colin had only drunk two quarts in 24 hours (a normal foal will drink approximately 4 gallons a day.) So I called the our vet, Brian. He thought I should bring him into the clinic as there was a pretty strong possibility Colin would need fluids and possibly tubing.

So once again we made the late night run to the clinic to meet the vet on call. Ava took his temp (normal) and drew blood. We waited for the initial results which were not overly alarming, but suggested that Colin was becoming dehydrated. When we left, Ava and an aide were preparing to give him a bag of fluids. The next morning Ava reported that Colin's condition was unchanged but she was not unduly worried and thought he would be fine with a few days of supportive care (fluids, tubing of milk, and treatments to firm up the diarhea).

At home I began to Google Colin's symptoms and found that they fit the description of Rotavirus, a common, highly contagious diarhea, which affects only foals under 5 or 6 months of age. Left untreated, severe cases have a fairly high mortality rate. Treated, almost all foals survive. The symptons are watery diarhea, anorexia, and.lethargy. When I ran my findings by Brian and Ava, they thought it could be possible, but almost all diarheas have those exact symptoms, and you treat all serious diarheas the same way.They also wondered in he could be reacting to the milk replacement.

However, the next morning the other orphan foal, Viktor,came down with the same symptoms and ended up at the clinic in the stall beside Colin. Now we were all thinking Rotavirus. So we sent a stool sample in to be tested. Neither of the orphans was getting worse, but they weren't improving either. However, most Rotavirus cases take 4 to 7 days to resolve. So we just had to wait.

The next day, Colin began to improve, drinking some milk on his own. However, we had a new alarming develpment. Our newest foal, Rita,came down with Rotavirus symptoms. Again, we rushed her to the clinic. With Rita now sick, we could reject the idea that the diarhea was specific to something in the orphan's environment. Fortunately, with only minor treatment, Rita began to recover quickly and we were able to bring her and Colin home the next day. Viktor would have to stay several more days before he was stable enough to go home.

All are home now and doing well. The results of the stool sample identified the source of the illness at Rotavirus. Since then I've done more reading about the disease. It's possible that the orphans were so much sicker than Rita, because of the conditions surrounding their births they were more stressed than she was and so developed more serious symptoms. One article I read suggested that as many as 70 percent of foals will have some diarhea in their early months, but not all who contract Rotavirus will develop life-threatening symptoms.


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