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Horses: Not all the pastures are safe

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Tuesday, 02 de December 2008

Horses: Not all the pastures are safe

It is always more natural and comfortable for the horse to spend his time at the pasture rather than on the stable. However, these terrains may have hidden dangers, especially those related with toxic plants.

Although a strong and big animal, the horse is as sensible to some toxins as a little cat that is seduced by the household toxic plants. The more serious cases can lead to the death of the horse and the les concerning can be eliminated by removing the dangerous plants.

The ingestion of toxic plants can be avoided not only with a thorough inspection of the land, but also by giving the correct diet to the horse: a well fed horse doesn’t eat all the plants in his way.

The plants identified as dangerous to the horse should be removed and burnt. Never let these plants on the ground, since cropped plants may be more appealing to the horse than planted ones. If you have a toxic tree in your land, you should put a fence all around that doesn’t allow the horse to go near it. Horses need several shades and lots of water, so you if surrounded any tree, plant safe ones that provide large shades. Also have terrains with plenty of grass, since this has many nutrients to the horse and it isn’t toxic at all. If you use pesticides, don’t allow the animals to go to that pasture at least for some weeks and only after heavy rain, so that the land is “washed”.

There are several plants with different toxicity levels. The higher risk plants are:

  • Yew – and all the taxaceae family. Extremely toxic, the Yew affects the heart and the respiratory system of the horse. 500 gr. of yew can kill a horse. Besides this, there’s no treatment for this king of poisoning;
  • Hemlock and Water hemlock – and related cicuta species. The toxic parts of this plant are: the root, stem, leafs and the fruits not yet full-grown. It affects the nervous system of the horse and the poisoning becomes evident usually in the next hour after the ingestion. The rapid assistance may save the horse, but it will hardly prevent collateral damages. The ingestion of 0,5 Kg can be fatal to a horse.
  • Yellow star thistle or Barnaby's Thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) – This plant is only toxic if ingested in high amounts, meaning half the weight of the horse, for longer periods than a month. Horses only eat them when they come mixed in the hay. The Yellow star thistle acts on the horse’s nervous system inhibiting the facial nerves. The damage is permanent and the horses that get to the point of not being able to eat are euthanized.
  • Oleander (Nerium oleander) – It is highly toxic for horses. It can cause cardiac arrests. The horse can be saved, if treated during an early stage of the poisoning.
  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum) – This medium sized tree has toxic leaves for horses, especially when they are wilted. 100 to 500 gr. can be fatal to the horse. The toxin in these plants affects the red blood cells, stopping the blood from carrying oxygen. The recovery is difficult and it might be necessary blood transfusions.
  • Loco Weed  - and all the plants belonging to be Oxytropis and Astragalus genus. There are about 300 species of these flowers that usually grow in leafless branches. This plant causes strange behaviors in horses. An advanced stage of poisoning is irreversible, but if the access to this plant is stopped on an early period, the horse may recover.
  • Ragwort, Groundsel and other senecio species – These flowers are a problem to the horses´ liver. It is frequent that signs of poisoning only appear when it’s too late to act.
  • Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) – Horses aren’t much keen on this plant, but when they are hungry and there’s not much of anything else they do eat it. The most common way of poisoning is when the Bracken Fern comes mixed up in the hay.


Other dangerous plants:

  • Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis);
  • Common Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea);
  • Avocado (Persea americana);
  • Rhododendron;
  • Black Walnut or American Walnut (Juglans nigra);
  • Oak (Quercus);
  • Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis);
  • Alsike Clover (Trifolium hybridum);
  • Bog-laurel (Kalmia polifolia);
  • Amsinckia species;
  • Equisetum species;
  • Field Penny-cress (Thlaspi arvense);
  • St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum);
  • Heliotropum species;
  • Chinese hound's tongue or Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile);
  • Haplopappus heterophyllus;
  • Kalmia augustifolia;
  • Delphinium species;
  • Robinia species;
  • Mountain-laurel or Spoonwood (Kalmia latifolia);
  • Purple Viper's Bugloss (Echium plantagineum);
  • Viper's Bugloss (Echium vulgare);
  • Barbarea orthoceras;
  • Bittercress  or Yellow Rocketcress (Barbarea vulgaris);
  • Centaurea repens;
  • Wallflower (Erysimum cheiranthoides);
  • White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum);
  • Tobacco, Nicotiana.
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