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):
- Crusts, especially on the coronary bands
- Photosensitization (often shows up as pink, crusty scabs on white noses)
- Weight Loss, lack of appetite and energy, dull coat
- Head pressing
- Aimless wandering (Walk-About Disease) or wandering in circles
- Sluggish, uneasy, and anorectic
- Yellow coloring (jaundice) of mucous membranes
Prevention is possible!! Learn how to recognize the deadly plants in your pasture and in your hay.
Please read this excellent article on Ragwort Poisoning that is offered on a British websiteRagTag UK.