No treatment of the navel is required when the foaling occurs in a clean environment, such as a clean, grassy pasture or a very well cleaned, disinfected, and bedded stall.
However, most owners prefer to dip their foal’s navel. Traditionally, products containing iodine in different concentrations have been used to dip navels with apparent effectiveness.
However, these products have been known to cause serious side effects, such as irritation and sloughing of abdominal skin.
Researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, studied the use of different disinfectants on navels to determine their effect on bacterial growth.
Results showed that overall a half-percent solution of chlorhexidine was the best solution to use for dipping the navel. It was the most effective against the common bacteria identified, as the major cause of umbilical infections while it did not cause complications such as skin irritation.
According to the study, the stronger concentrations of iodine (seven to ten percent) should not be used because in addition to the damage they can do to the surrounding skin, they tend to cauterize and dry the umbilical cord too rapidly.
This rapid drying can trap bacteria in the tissues, resulting in abscesses, and also cause a potential risk for a higher incidence of patent urachus developing which allows urine to drip from the drying cord (the urachus is the opening from the bladder to the umbilicus in the fetus).
One product that contains chlorhexidine as an active ingredient is one-percent Novasan® Antiseptic solution. In order to prepare the proper concentration, it should be diluted with an equal volume of water to create a half-percent solution.
Another product, Novasan® Teat Dip, with four-percent chlorhexidine plus glycerin, must also be diluted. Place one pint of the teat dip in a clean gallon container and fill with water, thus creating a gallon of half-percent solution.