Horses do not commonly eat poisonous plants. However, sometimes the bales of hay that we feed our horses may be contaminated by poisonous plants. Even plants that do not commonly occur in our area can be baled up in our hay that comes from different parts of the country. In the next few posts we will look at some poisonous plants and what we need to look out for in our horses.

Today we look at plants that can damage the liver of a horse.

Senecio plants cause damage to the horse’s liver. The 2 Scenecio species we find in SA that are of concern are Senecio retrorsus, which occurs mainly in the winter rainfall areas, and Senecio latifolius which occurs in the summer rainfall areas. Don’t worry! You don’t need to remember their names!! ? The distribution maps on the picture shows you where each occur and the picture also shows what the plants look like.

When horses eat these plants either in their pasture or in their hay, it causes damage to their liver. Obviously an owner cannot see their horse’s liver, but we can see the symptoms if the horse’s liver is sick. Symptoms include yellow gums, a horse that looks dull and depressed, weight loss over a period of time, small blood spots on the gums, colic symptoms and uncoordinated movement.

Once the liver is affected by the plant toxins it is not always possible to reverse the toxic effects. So it is better to make sure that our horses do not eat these plants by checking the hay we feed and by pulling the plants out if we see them growing in our paddocks. If a horse is showing any combination of the symptoms mentioned, it is a good idea to call the vet as soon as possible.

Dr Marleece
Parys Animal Hospital