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Over the next few posts, we’re going to show some of the plants that are toxic to horses and which tend to be common, well-known plants. We’ll also feature some that may be lesser known.

Red Maple Tree

The red maple tree is very common throughout the United States and is one of its native trees. It is very commonly used for landscaping, and also grows naturally in many places.

The part of the tree toxic to horses is the leaves. The leaves can be fresh, dried or wilted from the fall weather in order to be dangerous. The wilted and dried ones can be especially dangerous as they can blow during fall winds, storms, or be collected in lawn clippings given to horses (although this is not recommended).

In order to be toxic, horses would need to ingest 3 pounds of leaves for every 1000 pounds. At this rate, the leaves can be deadly.

It is not known what exactly the leaves contain that makes them toxic to horses, but the effect the leaves have is that red blood cells are destroyed.

The symptoms that you will see with poisoning look like other red blood cell disease symptoms:

  • Severe anemia
  • Depression
  • Increased heart and breathing rates

Right now, there is no cure or antidote for poisoning from red maple leaves. The best that any veterinarian can do is simply provide support and therapy to the horse.

In some extreme cases, however, a complete blood transfusion may be needed to save the horse’s life.

Milkweed

The picture above is of just one of the almost 100 different species of milkweed, and all look different. The one characteristic all have in common is that, when the plant is injured, it releases a white substance that closely resembles milk.

Milkweed is found throughout the United States in almost any type of soil. It tends to favor open, sunny areas, and can especially be found in weedy patches along road and field edges, including hay fields. As such, it’s extremely important to ensure that none of these plants end up in your hay.

While all milkweed species are toxic, the narrow leaf species tend to be more toxic than the broad leaf species. The narrow leaf species seem to cause more neurological issues, while the broad leaf species cause more digestive issues. No matter the species, milkweed is toxic whether it is fresh or dried.

A horse only needs to ingest as little as 1 pound for a 1000 pound horse to experience severe reactions and even death. Death typically occurs within 1-3 days after the plant is consumed.

Symptoms of poisoning include:

  • Profuse salivation
  • Bloating
  • Seizures
  • Colic
  • Abnormal heart rates
  • Hypothermia
  • Death

Treatment for milkweed poisoning includes detoxifying the digestive tract and supplying medical treatment for any heart rate problems. Sedation may be required as well.

Azaleas

Azaleas are very often found in gardens around this area. They are evergreens that are usually either large shrubs or small trees. Usually you’ll see bright pink flowers, but you can also find some with vibrant purple flowers, which appear on the shrub or tree in the spring.

The parts of azaleas which are toxic are its leaves and the nectar it produces. It is known that the toxin present is a grayanotoxin, which modifies the sodium channel in cells, causing excitation of cells. The symptoms this can cause are:

  • Excessive salivation, usually green and frothy
  • Muscular weakness
  • Slow heartrate
  • Vision problems
  • Colic
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Death can occur within a few days if the horse is not treated

Usually if a horse consumed azaleas, it will need to be detoxed to rid itself of the toxins. If the symptoms are more severe, respiratory therapy, supportive therapy, or IV fluids may be needed.

Alsike Clover

Alsike clover is found throughout the United States and Canada and typically a short plant, around 1-2 feet tall, with white or purple flowers. It prefers moist soil and tends to grow in places with an adequate amount of rain, usually in roadside ditches, pastures, yards, and anywhere else plants can typically be found.

The entire Alsike clover plant is toxic, both when it is fresh and dried. It’s not sure what exactly makes this plant toxic, even though it has been known to be toxic for nearly a century.

If horses are exposed to a small amount of Alsike clover, or exposed to it for a short period of time, they show symptoms of photosensitivity. This usually shows itself as looking like a very bad sunburn – reddened skin, and bumps on the skin that ooze and eventually dry up and fall off, which can be found usually on the white-haired areas of the face and legs.

If horses are exposed to larger amounts of the plant, or for longer periods of time, they can develop what’s known as “big liver disease.” This occurs when the liver enlarges and develops excessive connective tissue. If it progresses enough, it can lead to neurological symptoms, including, but not limited to, walking in circles, being disoriented, and head-pressing, as well as jaundice and weight loss.

The simplest way to prevent poisoning from Alsike clover is to make sure your horse does not have access to the clover. This means keeping the horse inside if any signs of photosensitivity are shown, especially during daylight hours. Also, if you are seeding your pasture, make sure that the mix you are using does not contain Alsike clover seeds, which many do.

Buckwheat is a very fast growing plant that has hairless stems. The leaves vary in size and shape, ranging from an arrow-like shape to a heart shape.

The flowers are small and white, and the seeds are small 3-sided angular shapes, which turn brown when they are ripe.

This plant can be found throughout North America. In some areas it is considered an escaped weed, while in some areas it is purposefully planted to provide ground cover or for harvest for buckwheat flour.

It usually can be found in disturbed soils, but very rarely does it persist for long. It is usually found along roadsides and ditches.

All parts of the plant are toxic in both fresh and dried states. The only exception is the ripe seed, which does not contain any of the toxic substance.

This plant is toxic because it contains a pigment called “fagopyrin” (thus its scientific name!). Fagopyrin causes photosensitive dermatitis in horses. The photosensitive dermatitis is caused by the toxin in the blood vessels reacting with ultraviolent rays. The resulting radiant energy causes damage (sometimes severe enough to slough off skin!) to the blood vessels and the skin.

The most prominent symptom of this photosensitive dermatitis is a weeping itchy skin inflammation on any area that has been exposed to sun. Horses will also become very agitated in the sunlight, often trying to get under or behind anything that will block the sun exposure.

Horses with white skin are most often affected. If a horse with dark skin suffers from buckwheat poisoning, his eyes may be affected if he does not have pigmented eyes, but otherwise he will be relatively unaffected.

The horse should be immediately moved out of the sun, and kept away from all UV light. Any St. John’s Wort should be immediately removed from the diet.

Antihistamines as well as anti-inflammatory drugs may be useful in the initial stages after poisoning.

You can feel it. You can smell it. The snow is pretty much gone. The days are getting warmer. People are beginning to emerge from their houses.

It’s spring!

Your horse also needs to get ready for spring. Here are a few things you can do to make sure he’s ready:

Grab a brush and stand upwind

Help your horse shed his winter coat by grabbing a curry brush and giving him a good brushing to loosen up all of the hair. Just make sure you’re not standing downwind when you do, or else you’ll end up with a mouthful of hair.

While you’re brushing, it’s a good idea to give him a good look-over. Check for any scrapes or cuts and treat them as needed. Also check his hooves and pick out anything stuck in them. Wipe his face clean with a damp cloth and brush his mane and tail to get all the knots out.

Clean out his stall

Do some spring cleaning in your horse’s stall while he is turned out. Open up all the windows and doors to air out and let some fresh air in. Take everything out of your horse’s stall and give it a good sweeping. Clean out all of the feed buckets and tubs. Clean all of your equipment, and repair any cracked or damaged leather. Also, stock up on any supplies you may be running low on.

Give your tack a good cleaning

Take all of your tack apart and give it a thorough cleaning with soap and water. Use q-tips to get into all the tiny places your fingers won’t reach. Massage some oil into the leather parts of your tack. Don’t forget to get all of the buckles and bits, too. Give all of the blankets and sheets a good washing.

Check in with your veterinarian

It’s a good idea to have a visit with your veterinarian to get your horse up to date on all of his shots and get him a check-up. Giving your horse a good dental cleaning and look-over is also a good idea.

Go out for a ride

Take your horse out for a good ride. Be careful of muddy trails. It’s a good time to get together with a trainer and schedule some lessons if you aren’t in a regular training program. When you do go out, be sure to cool your horse down after a ride, especially if he still has his winter coat.

These are some good tips to keep in mind as we head into spring. It’ll help you get a good start as the weather gets warmer and we all head out more to be with our horses.

Vaccination used to be simple. You bought a couple of vaccines at the feed store and gave them once a year to your horse. Today there are so many vaccination options that if you still administer vaccines yourself without at least talking to your veterinarian, you might be selling yourself, and your horse, short.

“Vaccination is a complicated business,” says Paul Lunn, BVSc, MS, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ACVIM, who served on the committee that updated the vaccination guidelines released in 2008 by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). “There are a lot of considerations in devising vaccination strategies. You need a formula for your horse or your farm, and you will have a heck of a time coming up with that unless you work with your veterinarian.”

Mary C. Scollay, DVM, who chaired the vaccination committee and is the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, agrees: “Even within the same barn, each horse is unique and has unique needs.”

Experts recommend vaccinations be tailored to the horse, his situation, the time of year, what he is going to do, where he is going to do it, and who he is going to meet.

“Your vaccination program will be more effective if you do a critical analysis of how you use your horse, how your horse travels, how your horse is managed, and the environment in which the horse lives,” explains Scollay. “The owner of the horse has to be a partner with the veterinarian to determine what the best vaccinations are specific to the horse’s needs.”

Because of this need to work together, the AAEP vaccine guidelines are available to owners and veterinarians at www.aaep.org/vaccinations_guidelines.htm. The guidelines are extensive and provide information about diseases, available vaccines, their safety and effectiveness, and why they are recommended, as well as how often they should be given.

The AAEP guidelines divide the vaccines into two categories: core vaccines and risk-based vaccines. We’ll look at each of these in further detail in the coming days.

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