5 Poisonous Plants that Pose a Threat to Your Horse

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Of the hundreds of thousands of plant species in the British Isles, only a small handful are likely to pose a serious threat to your horse’s health. Here are five poisonous plants to watch out for:

1. Hemlock

Hemlock is a multi-stemmed weed with fern-like leaves and clusters of tiny white flowers. The leaves, stems and seeds of the hemlock contain potent neurotoxins, which have the potential to affect your horse’s nervous system. If your horse consumes this plant, he may suffer from nervousness, tremors and incoordination within one to two hours of consumption. Over time, your horse may develop reduced heart and respiratory rates. There is no treatment for hemlock poisoning. However, if your horse consumes only a small dose, he may recover with supportive care from your veterinarian.

2. Ragwort

Ragwort is a multi-stemmed weed with clusters of small yellow flowers. It is a source of pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which have the potential to harm your horse’s liver. If your horse consumes this plant, he may suffer from irreversible liver damage. The signs of liver damage include diminished appetite, weight loss, depression and jaundice. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for the advanced liver disease that results from consumption of this plant.

3. Yew

Yew is an evergreen shrub with leaves that look sharp but feel soft to the touch. In the spring and summer, the plant may grow berries that slowly turn red in colour during the autumn months. The yew contains toxic alkaloids which, if consumed, may cause your horse to suffer from trembling, muscle weakness, nervousness and difficulty breathing. These symptoms often appear very rapidly, but if you are able to recognise them in a timely manner, your horse may recover with supportive heart therapy and detoxification from your veterinarian.

4. Horse chestnut

The horse chestnut is a large tree with palmate leaves and fringed petalled flowers. If your horse consumes the young sprouts and leaves of this poisonous plant, he may develop symptoms of muscle twitching, weakness and gastrointestinal pain. Treatment usually includes the use of laxatives, which help to remove the remaining parts of the plant from your horse’s digestive tract. In unrecognised cases, the disease may progress to a fatal coma.

5. Buttercups

Buttercups are widely branched plants with hollow stems and bright yellow flowers. They contain ranunculin, from which a toxin called protoanemonin is released when the plant is chewed in the mouth. If your horse consumes buttercups, he may suffer from abdominal pain, diarrhoea, excessive salivation and difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, there is no known antidote for buttercup poisoning. You should therefore contact your veterinarian for supportive treatment to reduce the damage caused by ingestion.

If you suspect your horse has consumed a poisonous plant, you should call your veterinarian straight away. While emergency veterinary care can be costly, horse insurance from Horse-Insurance.co.uk may help you to meet the cost of lifesaving treatment.


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