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Stress Prevents Healthy Grazing

If your horse suddenly falls ill with toxic syndromes, the odds are good it has something to do with the plants it has ingested. Obviously, if you believe that the animal has grazed on poisonous plants, you will need to notify your veterinarian immediately.
Make certain that you show the vet where your animal has been grazing for the last six months, and also indicate if there has been any change in feed, the pasture where your horse goes to graze and also environmental changes.

Generally speaking, horses usually stay away from poisonous plants that may grow in their pasture and stick to the healthy forage. Yet if the animals experience stress – such as it may be caused by a drought, an overcrowding of the pasture, or even the introduction of a new herd mate – they may begin grazing on plants that normally they
might avoid. Another factor is the well meaning gardener who reserves some tasty clipping including toxic plants for their horses.

Picture of horse in a field full of cross bonesHere are some examples of plants to avoid:
  • The leaves and bark of the red maple in the summer and fall are toxic for horses. Signs of ingestion include elevated heart and respiratory rates, urine that is colored dark red and yellowed mucus membranes.
  • Wilted leaves of cherry, plum, peach and apricot trees contain cyanide, which will result in respiratory distress in horses if ingested.
  • The Japanese Yew – an ornamental evergreen shrub – is so toxic that about a quarter pound of its clippings will kill an adult horse in a quarter hour. Your horse will appear disoriented, unable to coordinate its gait, suffer from respiratory distress, and fatal heart stoppage.
  • Rhododendron and mountain laurel will induce severe colic and also heart problems in horses. Four pounds of these leaves may be all it takes to bring about this reaction.
  • The shavings of the black walnut – when used as bedding – causes edema and founder. The cause is the hardwood; the trees and leaves themselves are not toxic in the pasture.
  • White snakeroot is a weed that grows in the shade by water. Poison cases happen in the fall and several pounds must be ingested before you will be able to observe muscle tremors and stiffness.
  • Jimson weed is toxic as well, but by far the worst are the seeds. Your horse may present with muscle twitches, an increased heart rate, and decreased motility of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Fescue may be toxic to mares and foals if it is infected with a fungus. Mares that feed on infected fescue will have serious problems with foaling – including the death of foals and mares.

Read the next horse pasture article on Grazing Horses that Improve the Pasture Quality.
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