from the Vet Corner Archives

Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 09/03/99; 2:00:00PM.

Veterinary Corner 9/99: Caring for the Umbilicus

by Frosty Franklin, DVM
Edgecliff Equine Hospital
S. 1322 Park Road, Spokane, WA 99212 * 509/924-6069

The umbilicus (belly button) of the foal requires special care. This structure is susceptible to infection, herniation, and other conditions. Many of these conditions can be prevented or treated.

The umbilical stump is exposed to the environment, and can easily become infected. The infection can spread through the blood vessels to the liver, and even into the general circulation, causing fever, illness or death. Prevention involves keeping the foal in as clean an environment as possible, and bedding the foal on straw, not shavings, for the first week of life. In addition, the umbilicus should be dipped twice daily in a 0.5% chlorhexadine (brand names are Nolvasan or Virosan - your veterinarian can obtain this solution for you) solution. Do not use iodine solutions of any kind. Tincture of iodine is damaging to tissues, and can even increase the incidence of infection. Betadine is not a strong enough antiseptic for this area.

An infected umbilicus often develops a swelling around it that was not there previously. Any discharge from the umbilicus is abnormal and should be investigated. Take the foal's temperature and call your veterinarian.

The umbilicus opens to the urinary bladder in the fetal horse, and this opening usually closes before birth. In some individuals it remains open after birth - a condition called a patent urachus. These foals will dribble urine from the umbilicus. This condition can lead to infection, and warrants a veterinary examination.

An umbilical hernia is a protrusion of tissue through an abnormal opening in the abdominal wall around the umbilicus (belly button). They are fairly common in foals, and can be present at birth or occur within a few weeks after birth. Many conditions can cause or worsen an umbilical hernia. It is always best to allow the umbilical cord to break naturally when the foal is born, because manually breaking the cord can cause a hernia. Never pull on the umbilical cord while it is still attached to the abdomen. Allow it to break naturally if possible, but if it becomes clear that it will not break on its own, find the natural indentation, approximately 2 inches from the abdomen. Grasp the cord on each side of the indentation and twist. The cord should easily break apart. Foals who have diarrhea should be monitored for the occurrence of a hernia - the straining from the diarrhea can weaken the body wall.

An umbilical hernia will feel like a water balloon protruding from the lower belly. Pushing a finger up into the soft mass will reveal a round opening in the body wall from a half inch to three inches in diameter. All umbilical hernias should be examined by a veterinarian. Small hernias will usually resolve on their own. The hernia should be gently pushed back through the opening in the abdomen daily. If you find that the hernia cannot be pushed back into the abdomen, or it becomes hard and/ or painful to the touch, immediate veterinary assistance is necessary. A piece of intestine could be trapped in the opening, necessitating emergency surgery.

If a hernia is large, or has not resolved within 4 to 6 months, your veterinarian will probably recommend that it be repaired. The two most common techniques are surgical closure and clamping - both are usually performed under general anesthesia, and complications from both procedures are infrequent.

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