Pre­ven­tive MEA­SURES

EQUUS - - Eq In brief -

It can be scary to think about how many poi­sonous plants your horse may en­counter, and you could never elim­i­nate all of them from his world. But you can take steps to limit the threats they pose:

• Pro­vide am­ple for­age. Horses who have plenty of hay or healthy pas­ture grasses are less likely to spend much time nib­bling on plants that are less palat­able. Keep an eye on the health of your pas­ture, and pro­vide hay if the grasses are get­ting over­grazed or dy­ing back due to drought or other fac­tors. Some toxic weeds are more of a threat in early spring or late fall be­cause they are green and grow­ing when the grass isn’t. Drought can also stress grasses, al­low­ing po­ten­tially toxic weeds to gain a firmer foothold and be­gin tak­ing over a pas­ture.

• Mon­i­tor your hay. A num­ber of plants re­main toxic when dried and be­come a threat when cut into hay bales. Ex­am­ine your hay as you serve it, and pick out any un­usual-look­ing leaves or branches.

• Pre­vent bore­dom. Even well-fed horses may nib­ble at any­thing within reach when they are bored. Of­fer­ing hay in slow feed­ers may make their ra­tions last longer, so they will be less in­clined to turn to other plants. Toys can also help keep their minds and mouths oc­cu­pied when they’re not eat­ing, and amenable com­pan­ions can re­duce stress.

• Re­move se­ri­ous threats. Deadly threats such as yew or ole­an­der need to be re­moved from any prop­er­ties hous­ing horses. More mod­er­ately toxic plants can be left where they are, es­pe­cially if your horses tend to leave them alone.

• Avoid let­ting your horse chew on un­fa­mil­iar plants. When you’re out on trail rides or at shows, in­spect the area care­fully be­fore al­low­ing your horse to take a graz­ing break. Learn to rec­og­nize the most se­ri­ous threats in your area, and don’t let your horse eat any­thing you can’t iden­tify.

the plants may cause a painful skin rash.

Note that sting­ing net­tle is a dif­fer­ent plant than horse net­tle (Solanum car­o­li­nense), a mem­ber of the night­shade fam­ily that can cause ex­ces­sive sali­va­tion, diar­rhea or con­sti­pa­tion, de­pres­sion and colic when eaten; se­ri­ous cases may be fa­tal. Horses tend to avoid horse net­tle un­less they have no other for­age. (To read more on horse net­tles, see “How Toxic Is This Weed?” Con­sul­tants, EQUUS 414.)

Lo­coweed is highly toxic. Var­i­ous species of this plant, also called crazy­weed, grow through­out the West and South­west, of­ten in dry, sandy soils. Most con­tain an al­ka­loid that in­hibits sugar me­tab­o­lism, caus­ing a buildup of sug­ars that disrupts the func­tion of the brain and other or­gans. Weight loss, sud­den changes in be­hav­ior or tem­per­a­ment, ataxia and un­usual gaits are of­ten among the first signs. There is no ef­fec­tive treat­ment for lo­coweed poi­son­ing, and the ef­fects may be per­ma­nent.

Horses tend to be nat­u­rally finicky eaters, which is good news when they’re pick­ing through all of the plants in the pas­ture in search of the sweet­est grass. Your horse will avoid many se­ri­ous threats all on his own. And by learn­ing to rec­og­nize and avoid the plants that might still do him harm, you’ll be able to keep him even safer.



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