Whether you own, lease, board or just ride, learning what plants are toxic is an important skill that can prevent serious health issues for our equines. Ingesting toxic plants can occur on a trail ride so don't assume stalled horses are completely safe. Each region has different plants that are toxic so do some homework based on your location after reading this article.
- Maple Trees: Maple trees are beautiful and commonly used in landscape. Maple is also able to live in various regions so it's likely you have some Maple species in your area. The wilted leaves from this tree are what is toxic to equines. Leaves can be tempting to eat once they've fallen from the tree since they taste sweet.
- Black Walnut Trees: Unlike the maple tree above, the entire black walnut tree is toxic to horses. This includes everything from roots to the walnuts themselves. Unlike the other plants listed in this article, horses can become ill from black walnut in a different way: bedding! Some wood shavings have black walnut mixed in with the typical pine. Standing in this and ingesting it with hay or spilled grain can poison our equines.
- Oleander: Oleander is a shrub that has beautiful white flowers. Some shrubs can have pink or red flowers as well. This plant is more common in the warm south but some people keep them in containers outdoors in colder regions. Case studies have shown that this plant can be deadly from a horse just eating a few mouthfuls of the leaves.
- Azaleas: Azaleas are a popular plant for landscaping, especially in the midwest, since their flowers are quite beautiful. They are also used in containers so keep this in mind if walking your horse in public areas. Unfortunately this pretty species can cause all kinds of stomach issues when ingested. The entire plant is toxic: flowers, leaves and stems.
- Sudan Grass: Trees and flowering shrubs aren't the only types of toxic plants. Grasses can be toxic as well. Sudan grass is a coarse grass that can grow 4+ feet in length. Horses aren't too apt to eat it due to this coarseness, but a particularly hungry horse might decide to try it. The toxicity of sudan grass causes bladder issues.
Common Signs of a Poisoned Horse
Many toxicity symptoms of the above plants are very similar. The following are some of the most common symptoms of an equine who has eaten a toxic plant:
- Sudden depression
- Unusual loss of energy
- Increased or labored breathing
- Dark urine
- Unconsciousness or coma
- Heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat
- Frothing or salivating
- Laminitis or hot hooves
- Loss of vision
- Acting disoriented and weak
If you suspect your horse has been poisoned you must contact a veterinarian ASAP. If you know what plant has been eaten be sure to grab a sample to show the vet. This is very important if you don't recognize the plant so you can ensure your horse gets proper treatment. I'd also like to include that the danger of toxic plants or plants tainted with pesticides and chemicals is a great reason to teach your horse to not snack on trail rides and break any head-dropping habits in-hand or on rides.
(Photo Credit: By ceridwen [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
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