What is Aflatoxin Poisoning?
Specific Aspergillus fungi produce aflatoxins on peanuts, soybeans, and corn, as well as other feed. This can occur within the pasture or while the feed is being stored (usually when conditions are good for mold growth). The aflatoxin will impact the liver of your horse, which can cause difficulties in their synthesis of proteins. The poisoning can also affect blood clotting and the metabolism of fats. The condition is serious and will require immediate attention from your veterinarian.
Produced by Aspergillus fungi, aflatoxins can be found on items that your horse may consume, leading to poisoning that will require immediate medical attention.
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Symptoms of Aflatoxin Poisoning in Horses
Symptoms will vary as a result of the age and sex of the animal, as well as their overall nutrition. Other factors include the quantity of aflatoxins ingested and for how long they were ingested. Symptoms will also vary based on whether the poisoning is acute or chronic.
In cases of acute poisoning in horses, the following may be seen:
- Disinterest in eating
- Significant depression
- Pain in the abdomen
- Nose bleeds
- Blood in feces
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle spasms
- Yellowing of mucous membranes
- Repeatedly laying down
- Sudden death
High doses will lead to significant liver damage. In cases of chronic poisoning, the following may be seen:
- Loss of weight
- Rough coat
- Low iron
Low doses over an extended period of time will lead to a reduced growth rate and an enlarged liver.
Horses can experience two types of Aflatoxin poisoning: acute and chronic. Should you notice any of the symptoms noted above, it will be important to visit the veterinarian.
Causes of Aflatoxin Poisoning in Horses
Aflatoxins are produced by fungi and can develop on foods that are in conditions where mold can grow successfully (typically where temperatures are higher than 70 degrees F day and night and are damp and moist). Aflatoxins can be present in the pasture or in feed that was not stored properly, allowing mold to grow. Should the fungus be on the food the horse consumes, they can experience aflatoxin poisoning.
It is a good idea to test feed for contamination and be even more careful with horses that have recently been weaned, or are pregnant or producing milk.
Diagnosis of Aflatoxin Poisoning in Horses
It can be challenging to diagnose aflatoxin poisoning as the symptoms that horses experience can be similar to those of other serious conditions. After conducting a physical examination of your horse and asking you for information regarding the symptoms you have observed in your him, your veterinarian will likely seek to conduct blood work in order to determine if your horse’s liver enzymes (alkaline phosphatase, AST or ALT) are high. A decrease in aluminum and globulin may be seen in cases of chronic exposure.
Your veterinarian may also request a sample of your horse’s feed or what they may have eaten in the pasture in order to determine if they have ingested aflatoxins. Should the amount of toxin ingested be high, it may be able to be found in the urine or your horse’s kidneys or its milk (if it is producing milk), however, often testing the feed is the best way to confirm a diagnosis of aflatoxin poisoning.
Treatment of Aflatoxin Poisoning in Horses
While there is no particular treatment for aflatoxin poisoning in horses, the majority of veterinarians will use activated charcoal. This will be given orally to your horse. The charcoal will soak up the toxins that are in the horse’s system, allowing them to not be absorbed in their body. Other treatments that may be recommended by your veterinarian would be considered supportive. For example:
- Providing a low fat diet of easily digested food
- Including vitamins in the food of your horse
- Making sure that the food that is contaminated with the aflatoxins is no longer accessible, so that your horse does not ingest additional amounts and cause further illness
Recovery of Aflatoxin Poisoning in Horses
Should your horse experience aflatoxin poisoning, it is important to follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian in order to ensure that he has the best chance to make a full recovery. In one to three weeks after your horse has no longer been exposed to aflatoxin, the toxin residues should no longer be seen in his organs.
It is important that all feed (grains, hay, straw, etc) or items that your horse may be able to consume are inspected to be sure that they are free of aflatoxins. You will also want to be sure to store your feed properly in order to keep mold from forming on what your horse will ultimately consume.