-aple boards for horse fenc­ing?

Q:I will soon need to re­place some wood board fenc­ing in my horse pad­docks. My brother is also plan­ning to clear part of his prop­erty, and he of­fered me a deal on the lum­ber if I want it. I am con­cerned, though, be­cause many of the big­ger trees he wants to take down are maples. I know that the fallen leaves from red maple trees can be toxic to horses, and I’ve heard that other parts of the tree are toxic, too. Is the wood also dan­ger­ous? One of my ponies will chew on the fenc­ing oc­ca­sion­ally, and I don’t want him to come to any harm.

Name with­held upon re­quest

A:Wilted and dried leaves from the red maple (Acer rubrum) are toxic to horses who eat them. They con­tain a type of tan­nin, called gal­lic acid, that dam­ages a horse’s he­mo­glo­bin, the mol­e­cules within the red blood cells that trans­port oxy­gen. Starved of oxy­gen, or­gans and tis­sues through­out the body will be­gin to fail. Eat­ing just three pounds of wilted or dried leaves could be fa­tal to an adult horse.

The threat from red maples is well es­tab­lished, but gal­lic acid has also been found in the leaves of sugar (Acer sac­cha­rum) and sil­ver (Acer sac­cha­r­inum) maple trees. All three of these species are na­tive to the United States, and they---along with nu­mer­ous hy­brids and cul­ti­vars de­rived from them---are com­monly used in land­scap­ing. Most of these va­ri­eties have never been tested for tox­i­c­ity, but it is best to as­sume that the wilted or dried leaves from any maple species are po­ten­tially toxic.

Most of the toxin is con­cen­trated in the tree’s leaves, but there is also some in the branches and bark. How­ever, horses are not likely to eat enough of these parts of the tree to do them­selves harm. Even the oc­ca­sional mouthful of green, grow­ing red maple leaves is un­likely to be harm­ful. The leaves be­come most dan­ger­ous when they wilt or dry out, which con­cen­trates the toxin.

Cur­rently, we have no spe­cific in­for­ma­tion about the tox­i­c­ity of dried maple wood. But given that there is very lit­tle of the toxin in the tree trunk, lum­ber made from maples is un­likely to be a prob­lem to horses. An­thony P. Knight, BVSc,

MS, DACVIM Pro­fes­sor Emer­i­tus Colorado State Univer­sity

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