Learn About Rotavirus in Foals

Nursing foal.
Nursing foal. Image: ElaiEva/www.freeimages.com/

If you have a mature horse, that is a horse over five months of age or more, you don't really need to worry about rotavirus as older horse are not susceptible to the virus. Rotavirus is a concern for foal owners. The AAEP claims that 70% of foals will have at least one bout of diarrhea that will be caused by rotavirus. For the foal owner, it's certainly a worry, as it is one of several causes of diarrhea and it is very distressing to see a much anticipated baby battling a viral infection that could be fatal.

With good veterinary care however, all should be well, and there are preventative measures that will help protect your foal.

Rotavirus is a worry for humans too, especially infants and young children. But the viruses that cause equine rotavirus are not the same as those that cause human rotavirus. It's just common sense to practice good hygiene when working between your house and barn, but you don't have to be frightened you'll transfer the virus to a young child or even yourself. Equine rotavirus, unlike canine rotavirus is not zoonotic.

 

Other Names for Rotavirus:

Foal Diarrhea, Foal Heat Diarrhea, Rotaviral Diarrhea

Causes of Rotavirus Poisoning:

Rotavirus is a virus that damages the villi in the intestines making it difficult for the intestines to absorb nutrients from food – malabsorption. The damage to the intestinal lining makes the foal unable to digest lactose, a component of the mare's milk.

This causes diarrhea that pulls water from the foal’s body. Left untreated the foal will become badly dehydrated, a situation that could lead to death. The virus is carried in the manure and if a horse comes in contact with the manure, the virus can easily be ingested.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of rotavirus are watery diarrhea often beginning with soft manure.

The manure may have a distinctive smell. The foal may become depressed and refuse to eat. A veterinarian should take fecal samples to confirm a diagnoses because diarrhea in foals can be caused be a number of things. If a number of foals appear to have the virus, samples should be taken from several.

Treatment:

Once your veterinarian has confirmed that it is rotavirus that is causing the diarrhea, the foal may be given fluids intravenously to prevent further dehydration. Probiotics may help the foal digest its feed. Nutritional supplements may be administered to make up for the malabsorption. Electrolytes may be given to help replace minerals and salts lost as fluids are lost due to the diarrhea. With proper treatment, it’s unlikely that the foal will suffer any lasting damage. But left untreated, the dehydration and lack of nutrition can lead to death.

Prevention:

Once your veterinarian has confirmed that it is rotavirus that is causing the diarrhea, the foal may be given fluids intravenously to prevent further dehydration. Probiotics may help the foal digest its feed. Nutritional supplements may be administered to make up for the malabsorption. Electrolytes may be given to help replace minerals and salts lost as fluids are lost due to the diarrhea.

With proper treatment, it’s unlikely that the foal will suffer any lasting damage. But left untreated, the dehydration and lack of nutrition can lead to death.

Reference:

 

Hayes, M. Horace, and Peter D. Rossdale. Veterinary notes for horse owners: an illustrated manual of horse medicine and surgery. 17th ed. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1987. Print. "The Merck Veterinary Manual." The Merck Veterinary Manual. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2012. .