Monday, August 2, 2010

Groundsel Will Kill Your Horse

If you love your horse, if you love horses period, you need to know about this plant. I thought I was well-educated regarding plants that could harm my horses. This weekend I heard the chilling story of four horses who lived in the Central Valley of California and died after eating, over weeks or months, enough groundsel to destroy their liver. The groundsel was in their hay. I have never considered that the yummy looking hay I buy, imported from outside of Humboldt County, could be the delivery system for this deadly, toxic plant.

The scientific name of common groundsel is senecio vulgaris. It is a member the senecio genus, the Senecioneae tribe, and the vast clan of the Asterceae family. Members of the sencecio genus are responsible for more livestock poisonings than all other the other poisonous plants in the world combined (Gravendeel, Barbara, van der Meijden, Ruud, Pelsen, Pieter B., Tackling Speciose Genera: Species Composition and Phylogenetic Position of Senecio sect. Jacobaea (Asteraceae) Based Onplastid and nrDNA Sequences, American Journal of Botany. 2002;89:929-939. Web. 1, August, 2010).

Tansy and Ragwort are other well known and equally deadly members of the Senecio Club. Thriving in the Pacific Northwest and California, they especially love pastures and hay fields. These deadly plant thugs kill through pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA). While the taste of PA compounds tends to repel animals under most circumstances, when dried the taste is much less noticeable.

The Merck Veterinarian Manual stresses that exposure to PAs is usually chronic and clinical signs may not become visible until some time after initial exposure. Damage occurs over time and results in liver failure. We need to know the symptoms of PA poisoning. While symptoms of PA exposue vary, here is a list of the symptoms most consistently described in online articles (each symptom is linked to the source):

The tragic truth is, by the time symptoms are visible our horses are already compromised. If you suspect that your horse has been eating hepatotoxic plants, call your veterinarian immediately.

Prevention is possible!! Learn how to recognize the deadly plants in your pasture and in your hay.

Related Links

Please read this excellent article on Ragwort Poisoning that is offered on a British websiteRagTag UK.

A related post script: Think about it . . . alfalfa producers have got to lose years of sleep figuring out ways to keep groundsel and other toxic plants out of their fields. The recent furor overRound Up Ready alfalfa takes on new significance considering the devastation of PA promoting plants. I don't have an opinion on this (other than my general rabid aversion to mucking around with the DNA of the planet) but now I understand a bit more about farmers' desire to implement this genetically modified seed.


Anonymous said...

Very important stuff - these things are particularly difficult if your hay is brought from far away, or if you have little control in a boarding situation of what your horse eats.

I like the Horse Owner's Field Guide to Toxic Plants by Sandra Burger for plant identification.

Dan said...

Thanks for this information!!
I'm just going to start up with horses back here in Sweden, threre is many plants to be afraid of.

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Anonymous said...

Just had two horses die a month ago in Lemoore, CA from this being in their hay. Thanks for this post.