While there are many different varieties of cherry trees and shrubs, both in the wild and planted in landscaping and yards, all are toxic to horses. They can be identified by their white or pink flowers in the spring, and red to purple fruit, and are found all throughout the U.S.
The most toxic part of a cherry tree is the leaves, with the bark also being toxic in some species. When the leaves are stressed or wilted, chewed or in some way injured, is when cyanide is produced, which is lethal to all animals. When ingested, the cyanide reacts with iron in the horse’s body, which stops cellular respiration and prevents oxygen from being transported through the bloodstream, basically suffocating the horse.
If enough of the leaves are consumed, death can occur within minutes. Other symptoms you may observe are:
- Troubled/labored breathing
- Flared nostrils
- Loss of control of urination and defecation
- Lack of coordination
It is very rare that any of these symptoms will be observed, as poisoning progresses very quickly, with death occurring often within minutes. It is usually only if you catch the horse immediately after it has ingested the leaves that you will observe any symptoms.
If you do happen to observe any symptoms and a veterinarian can arrive extremely quickly, the poisoning can be treated. Unfortunately, because the poisoning progresses extremely rapidly, vets often cannot get to the scene in time.