Swelling of the Umbilicus in Foals

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Last updated on
3 min read

Key takeaways

A swollen umbilicus describes the presence of an enlarged umbilical stump in newborn foals. 

  • Depending on the underlying cause, the swelling can feel soft and fluid-like, hard and warm, or may be accompanied by other symptoms
  • The primary causes of swelling are patent urachus, umbilical infection, and umbilical hernias
  • Associated conditions can be life-threatening and require prompt intervention
  • Diagnostics include ultrasound imaging, blood testing, urine testing, and a physical examination of the swelling
  • Treatment depends on the root cause but can include surgery, antibiotics, topical treatment, and cauterization
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A closer look: Swelling of the Umbilicus in Foals

The umbilical cord is the tube that connects a gestating fetus to its mother’s bloodstream. During pregnancy, nutrients and oxygen pass from the mother to the fetus through the umbilical cord. After birth, the cord is severed and the portion left behind on the abdomen is referred to as the umbilicus.

It is important to address signs of swelling of the umbilicus promptly as newborn foals do not have a fully developed immune system, leaving them vulnerable to serious infections.

Presentation of the symptom varies based on the underlying cause.

Patent urachus: Occurs when the opening to the umbilical cord in the abdomen fails to close after separation, resulting in urine leaking from the umbilical stump.

Umbilical infection: Occurs when an infection of the umbilicus causes inflammation and swelling. In these cases, the swelling feels warm, firm, and is not easily moveable. The foal may react painfully when the area is touched.

Umbilical hernia: Describes when abdominal contents protrude through the weak abdominal wall in the area of the umbilicus. This results in swelling that feels soft or fluid-like. If pressed, the swelling flattens against the body easily and is not painful.

Possible causes

Swelling of the umbilicus is usually due to one of three main causes.

Risk factors

Swelling of the umbilicus is uncommon in foals, but is more common in cases of failure of passive transfer, poor hygiene, or contamination of the umbilical stump. A swollen umbilicus requires immediate veterinary care, as some of the causes are potentially life-threatening.

Testing and diagnosis

After a medical history and physical examination, a number of diagnostics can be run to determine the underlying cause of the swelling;

  • Diagnostic imaging, particularly ultrasound
  • Bloodwork
  • Urinalysis
  • Bacterial culture of the area around the swelling
  • Assessment of antibody levels in the bloodstream

Treatment will depend on the root cause of the swelling but can include;

  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Surgical intervention
  • Cauterization of the umbilical stump

Similar symptoms

Swelling of the umbilicus is self-evident and not likely to be confused with other symptoms.

Associated symptoms

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