Buttercups in Horse Pastures: Are They Dangerous?

Buttercups in horse pastures can cause problems, but their acrid taste usually deters livestock from grazing. Here’s what to know.
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buttercups in horse pastures
Buttercups can cause mouth pain and blisters, drooling, oral and gastric ulcers, colic, and diarrhea in horses, but their acrid taste usually deters grazing. | Photo: iStock

The University of Kentucky (UK) Horse Pasture Evaluation Program has had several calls regarding the safety of yellow buttercup in horse pastures. As such, Megan Romano, PhD, veterinary toxicology resident, described on the plant’s potential risks to horses.

According to the current U.S. Department of Agriculture PLANTS database, Kentucky is home to nearly 30 different species of Ranunculus, or buttercups. Ranunculus leaves, flowers, and stems have a sharp, pungent taste, and livestock generally avoid grazing the plants.

Some Ranunculus species contain ranunculin, a compound hydrolyzed to protoanemonin when the plants and cells are damaged (for example, when they’re chewed). Protoanemonin is a vesicant (an agent that causes skin, mouth, and digestive system blistering). Those Ranunculus species with the highest ranunculin concentrations are the most toxic

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