Persimmon trees, commonly found in the southeastern United States, produce a fruit that’s often enticing to horses and other equids. Consuming this fruit, however, can be deadly; its fibers and seeds can create an obstruction within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, resulting in potentially serious impaction colic.

"Usually a persimmon phytobezoar (impaction of plant material) is suspected based on history of access to persimmon trees," explained Heidi Banse, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, a doctoral candidate at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. "Often times, other types of colic are ruled out on initial examination and routine colic diagnostics, including a rectal examination, abdominocentesis (a belly tap), and abdominal ultrasound."

Banse and colleagues recently evaluated 13 equid cases in which persimmon ingestion had led to a phytobezoar, to better characterize the ailment. The researchers noted clinical signs of persimmon phytobezoars, assessed differing treatments for the condition, and compared the prognosis of equids with gastric vs. intestinal persimmon phytobezoars.

The 10 horses, two donkeys, and one pony in the study were admitted between October 2001 and November 2008 to five veterinary teaching hospitals across the United States. All affected animals showed clinical signs of including colic, unexplained weight loss, anorexia, or diarrhea that persisted from five hours (colic) to six weeks (chronic diarrhea) prior to hospital admission.

Once veterinarians had diagnosed a persimmon phytobezoar via gastroscopy or gastroduodenoscopy, common treatment methods included:<