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What is Joint Ill?

Scone Equine Hospital - Tuesday, October 30, 2018
What is Joint Ill?

Joint ill is a term for infection of the joint and possibly adjacent bone. If the infection spreads to the bone either side of the joint, it is osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). There is commonly more than one joint involved and this is often preceded by septicemia. It is unusual to occur in foals older than 30 days old.

Any time a foal presents with lameness and fever, septic arthritis (joint ill) is the first problem to rule out. Waiting for just 1 day can many times make a serious difference in the eventual outcome.

Causes of Joint Ill include:

Environmental factors – overcrowding, poor sanitation, poor ventilation

Inappropriate umbilical disinfection

Problems with the mare – placentitis

Foaling difficulties

Clinical Signs include:

A lame foal should be assumed to have joint ill until proven otherwise

Hot, painful and swollen tissue around the joints

Depressed foal that is off suck


Veterinary clinical exam

Taking a sample of joint fluid for analysis and culture (arthrocentesis)


Cultures sample is best before antibiotics begin to determine the best antibiotics to use

Treatment includes some or all of the following:

Antibiotics are the primary treatment (possibly intra-articular but definitely systemically)

Some may need iv fluids and other support if systemically unwell and not nursing well

Arthroscopic joint lavage with antibiotic treatment

Regional limb perfusion with local high levels of appropriate antibiotics

Exercise restriction

Anti–inflammatories to control pain

Broad spectrum antibiotics continuing after initial aggressive treatment period

Gastro protectants (ulcer protection) while being treated

Whilst prognosis is generally fair with this condition, failure to treat promptly can result in a poor outcome with ongoing complications. Always contact your veterinarian immediately if you are concerned.