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Information Regarding The Poisoning of Horses

By Erin C Brankowski

There are certain plants and chemicals that horses should be kept away from. When exposed to these substances either via contact or ingestion, poisoning can occur.

If you suspect that your horse has been poisoned then it is important to try to eliminate the cause. It is often caused by something relating to their management including: toxins found in grazing, feed or bedding etc. Chemical agents can seep into soil from industrial businesses or from wind drift.

Poisoning incidents can be suspected if one or more horses are found dead, are suddenly and unexpectedly found ill or display neurological symptoms such as behavioural or locomotor changes. Severe colic symptoms can be seen, there may be skin lesions and if the cause of the poisoning is not removed quickly, then loss of weight can occur.

If a horse has suspected poisoning it is important that they see the vet as soon as possible. You should also inspect the fields for any signs of poisonous plants. It is wise to familiarise yourself with common poisonous plants and what they look like, particularly ragwort. You will then be able to identify and remove these as they appear in your field.

In the field it is generally accepted that horses will tend to stay away from plants that are poisonous when ingested due to their unpalatable taste. If this is the case then it is likely that poisoning will be more frequent when horses are hungry due to a shortage of forage or grazing and so more likely to eat things they wouldn’t usually. It can also occur if the food source has been spoilt or is mouldy.

As horses are not able to vomit they can’t get rid of any toxins they have ingested easily. Stomach lavage may be used by the vet to try and siphon off the contents. In extreme circumstances your vet may administer substances such as charcoal or kaolin to absorb the toxin. There are no real first aid options available to owners other than making sure the original source of the toxin is removed and keeping the horse warm enough and comfortable until the vet arrives. In extreme cases, cardiovascular stimulants and sedation may be necessary.

Some examples of plants known to be poisonous to horses include: acorns and oak leaves, foxgloves, hemlock, horsetail, laburnum, laurel, nightshade, rye grass, ragwort, rhododendron, st johns wort, yew and various others. Different plants will result in different symptoms in the horse so these symptoms can be used to identify where the poisoning may have originated.

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