Panic Or Procrastinate? What To Do if Your Horse Has Eaten a Poisonous Plant

You provide plenty of good quality feed, water, and turnout–do you still have to worry about your horse’s getting sick from eating a poisonous plant? While common sense and good horse management are your horse’s best protection

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You provide plenty of good quality feed, water, and turnout–do you still have to worry about your horse’s getting sick from eating a poisonous plant? While common sense and good horse management are your horse’s best protection, toxicology, like most other life sciences, has many unanswered questions. But by taking advantage of what is known, you can decrease the chance of your horse eating the wrong plant at the wrong time.


Since most poisonous plants do not taste very good, often horses will need a reason to eat them. The most common reason is simply hunger–the horse isn’t getting enough to eat or the nutritional quality of the diet is poor. Owners also can unintentionally feed toxins to their horses through contaminated hay and grain or by offering certain tree and bush clippings. Just a few leaves from the Japanese yew, a common lawn ornamental, can kill a horse within hours. Leaves from maple trees also can be fatal.


Allowing horses to graze a pasture after it has been sprayed with a herbicide, but before the weeds have died and disappeared, is another commonly overlooked reason a horse might become poisoned. Phenoxy compounds such as 2,4 D are believed to make the plants taste better and, in some cases, to increase concentrations of natural plant toxins

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AAEP Mission: To improve the health and welfare of the horse, to further the professional development of its members, and to provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the equine industry. More information: www.aaep.org.

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