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What is Beefsteak Plant Poisoning?

There are varying opinions in regards to the beefsteak plant.  Some people find it pleasing and have it as an ornamental plant in and around their home, while others only this of this plant as a weed and problem.  If you have a horse that likes to nibble on things, you may find yourself in the latter category.  If ingested, your horse can develop toxicity from this plant that may even lead to his death.  Symptoms are commonly localized to the respiratory system, but this of course affects your horse overall.  There is no antidote but the veterinarian can offer supportive therapies.  Even with medical intervention, your horse’s prognosis of recovery remains guarded.

Any type of heart abnormality or breathing difficulty should be considered a medical emergency.  You need to contact your veterinarian immediately if there is any suspicion that your horse ingested the beefsteak plant.

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Symptoms of Beefsteak Plant Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms of beefsteak plant poisoning may include:

  • Chronic weight loss
  • Increased body temperature 
  • Cough
  • Respiratory distress
  • Tachypnea 

Types

The beefsteak plant can be classified as a weed or ornamental plant depending on your preference.  Many people, including horse owners, think of this plant as aggravating while many people think it is aesthetically pleasing.  The beefsteak plant is also known by the names of perilla mint, purple mint, purple perilla, common perilla, wild coleus, wild basil, blueweed, rattlesnake weed, Joseph’s coat and Chinese basil. This plant grows well in many areas but flourishes in wastelands and along wood lines.  The beefsteak plant has a unique minty fragrance that goes along with the small white flowers it produces.

Causes of Beefsteak Plant Poisoning in Horses

While there are many common names this plant is known by, it has only one scientific name of the genus Perilla with varying species.  Scientists have discovered this plant produces the toxin known as L-tryptophan.  If ingested by your horse, it can cause respiratory distress, interfere with nerve function and even lead to death.

Diagnosis of Beefsteak Plant Poisoning in Horses

Your veterinarian’s first step will be to stabilize your horse’s condition.  If he is experiencing respiratory distress, she may attempt to provide oxygen supplementation if available.  This will give her time to evaluate your horse’s condition and note all of his symptoms before she begins administering medications.  

She will listen to his lungs via auscultation for any sounds of increased effort or abnormalities.  She will listen carefully to each section of his lungs in order to determine which part of the lungs it is occurring.  She may want to take radiographs of his lungs to rule out other possible causes of his symptoms such as pneumonia.  This will also give her a visual into his lungs to check for fluid, collapse, or blockage.

Your veterinarian will want to perform lab work in order to evaluate his organ function and overall blood chemistry levels.  She will suggest a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel as a form of general information regarding the organ function.  She may want to perform other lab work pending the results of the CBC and chemistry.

While unfortunate, your horse may die from the severity of the beefsteak poisoning.  If so, a necropsy is highly recommended; it will allow the veterinarian to come to a proper diagnosis.  In cases of beefsteak toxicity, the presence of white foam in the airways is a common finding.  Also, the lungs will appear partially collapsed but the lining and structures may appear normal.  By authorizing a necropsy, the cause of toxicity will be properly identified.  By knowing the beefsteak plant caused the poisoning, you can proceed to remove it from your property and prevent it from poisoning any of your other animals.

Treatment of Beefsteak Plant Poisoning in Horses

Step one will be to stabilize your horse’s condition if needed.  Second, you will need to remove your horse from the source of beefsteak plant immediately to prevent further ingestion.  There is no antidote to beefsteak poisoning.  If your horse develops symptoms of poisoning your veterinarian can offer him supportive therapies to ease any discomfort and alleviate any distress. 

As soon as you notice your horse acting abnormally, it would be good to move him into a stall or enclosed area.  It is extremely important you keep him as calm as possible as stress and anxiety can worsen his symptoms.  Causing your horse to stress can cause him to be anoxic and this can kill him very quickly.  

Symptoms will be treated on an individual basis as each horse can have a variety of symptoms.  The veterinarian can offer medications and therapies in response to his needs.  For respiratory distress and related symptoms, she can administer corticosteroids, diuretics, atropine, antibiotics, and antihistamines as needed.

Recovery of Beefsteak Plant Poisoning in Horses

Recovery from beefsteak poisoning can vary from fair to grave.  There are many contributing factors in regards to his prognosis.  If you witnessed your horse ingesting the plant and it has not been occurring for very long, chances of recovery are higher than that of a horse that has been eating it for months and is experiencing breathing difficulties.  Preventing your horse from ingesting this plant is ideal.