Poisoning in horses is not a common occurrence, but when poisoning occurs, effects can be disastrous and far-reaching. Listing all toxic substances is impossible, as virtually everything on the planet can be toxic at sufficiently high dosages. What dose is safe and what dose is toxic varies with each toxin, each animal, and each situation. Factors that influence risk from a toxic substance include animal age, concurrent diseases, exposure to concurrent toxins or drugs, reproductive status, and route of exposure. This article will briefly summarize some of the more common toxic substances that can pose risks to horses in North America.
Herbal Supplements: The use of herbal supplements for horses has become common in recent years. Many people believe that if something is “natural,” it must be safe and non-toxic. However, some of the most toxic substances on earth are completely natural (such as botulinum toxin, taxine in yew plants, and nicotine). Many herbal and natural supplements are inherently toxic, and many herbal products contain impurities and unknown amounts of “natural” ingredients. Herbal supplements are not well regulated, and studies investigating risks associated with use of these products in horses are lacking.
Plants, Feeds, and Feed Additives: Pastures can contain toxic plants and grasses that can pose risks at certain times during the year or under certain circumstances. Too many toxic plants exist to list here, and importance varies greatly with geographic location. However, all weeds should be viewed with suspicion and identified if possible. Additionally, grains can be contaminated with seeds from poisonous plants. Many shrubs, trees, and ornamental plants can be toxic to horses.
Hay and feed pellets can pose a toxic risk when unintended substances are incorporated into the feed. These substances include toxic weeds, toxic insects such as blister beetles, and dead animals that