Researchers Study Potentially Toxic Compounds in Horse Feeds

Nearly half of the European feed samples researchers analyzed had levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids—naturally occurring, potentially toxic organic compounds—that were higher than the accepted maximum tolerated levels, they said.
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toxic compounds in horse feed
Nearly half of the commercial feed samples German researchers analyzed had pyrrolizidine alkaloid levels that were higher than the accepted maximum tolerated levels, and the highest rates occurred in alfalfa- or herb-based feeds. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
If you think keeping your horse off pasture protects him from ingesting plant-based toxins, think again. Some commercial feed products might contain toxic levels of poisonous plant substances, recent study results suggest.

Nearly half of the commercial feed samples German researchers analyzed had pyrrolizidine alkaloid levels that were higher than the accepted maximum tolerated levels. The highest rates occurred in alfalfa- or herb-based feeds, said Ingrid Vervuert, DrMedVet, of the University of Leipzig Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, in Germany.

Also present in some kinds of honey and tea, pyrrolizidine alkaloids—naturally occurring organic compounds—can cause liver dysfunction in a variety of species, including humans and rats, Vervuert said. Their effects on horses, however, haven’t been studied in detail.

“More research is necessary, but we expect the feed companies to become more self-controlling (with regard to the management of their product), as there is a potential risk of pyrrolizidine alkaloid contamination, especially in herb-containing commercial feeds,” she said

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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