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What is Bluebell Poisoning?

The history of the English bluebell is quite colorful and it goes back to ancient Greek myths.  While over the centuries it has been known by several scientific and botanical names, the current handle given to this plant is Hyacinthoides Non Scripta and it seems to have been dropped into the Hyacinthaceae family.  It originated in England, as one of its names suggest, and can now be found elsewhere in Europe and North America.  All parts of the plant, especially the bulbs, are considered toxic to horses and most other animals as well as humans.

Bluebell poisoning is a sickening of horses after ingesting a weed also known as English Bluebells, common bluebells, Endymion non scriptus, Scilla non scripta or wild hyacinths.  The toxic process is similar to that of foxglove but not usually as dangerous.

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Symptoms of Bluebell Poisoning in Horses

Here are some of the symptoms which may be noted in the event your horse has ingested bluebells.  The degree to which these symptoms may present will be dependent upon the amount of the plant which has been ingested:

  • Abdominal pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold, moist skin
  • Decreased temperature
  • Decreased or ceasing of urination
  • Vomiting

Due to the chemical action of the glycosides which are similar to digitalis glycoside, consumption of larger amounts could cause more serious symptoms, such as:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Hypotension 
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Types  

The types of bluebell poisoning in horses relate to the degree to which the horse has ingested the plant and the degree of poisoning from which it is suffering.  Certainly, the amount as well as the particular parts of the bluebell which have been consumed will determine the intensity of the poisoning.  All parts of the plant are considered poisonous or toxic with the bulb being the most intense.  The bulb resembles that of an onion and is commonly mistaken for an onion especially by humans. This plant, because of the similarity of the glycoside process to that of foxglove, has the potential to be deadly if consumed in large enough quantity and if medical care is not available.

Causes of Bluebell Poisoning in Horses

  • The cause of the poisoning associated with bluebells is directly attributed to the glycoside it contains
  • A glycoside is an organic compounds occurring in plants
  • This process is similar to that which takes place with digitalis glycoside which results in a cardiac glycoside which acts on the muscles which contract the heart
  • Though the action of these glycosides are more mild in nature, it is this is the same process which causes foxglove to be so very toxic and deadly to horses
  • If bluebells are consumed in large enough quantities or if the bulb is eaten, cardiac arrhythmias are likely and, potentially fatal if serious enough

Diagnosis of Bluebell Poisoning in Horses

Diagnosis of bluebell poisoning in your horse will be based on several things:

  • Your complete history which will need to include not only the symptoms you have noted and the duration of those symptoms, but also will need to provide information about the feeding regimen of the afflicted horse (frequency, type of feed offered, if pastured and how often), noting if any parts of potentially poisonous plants have been found in the pasture or hay or feed being given
  • Physical examination by your veterinary professional and assessment of the condition of the afflicted horse
  • Based upon when information is obtained from you, from his examination and from his assessment, your vet will likely need to order some blood work and perhaps test various tissue samples for imbalances of comprehensive blood components and the presence of bacterial, fungal and parasitic organisms
  • Your veterinary professional may also need to order radiographic imaging (x-rays) or CT imaging to ascertain the possible presence of abnormal and suspicious masses or lesions

It should be noted that many of the symptoms noted above can be part of many other diseases, conditions and maladies of horses which emanate from other causes than plant poisoning.  These other conditions must be considered and ruled out by your vet before he can develop and initiate a suitable treatment plan.

Treatment of Bluebell Poisoning in Horses

There really isn’t a cure or precise treatment for bluebell poisoning in horses.  Your first action upon discovery of the above symptoms, or any symptoms deemed unusual for your horse,  would be to remove the horse from the source of potential poisoning.  For many horse owners, this would mean bringing the horse in from the pasture, stabling him and providing plenty of clean, fresh drinking water and nutritious.  A quiet and restful atmosphere will also be advantageous for appropriate recuperation for your horse. 

For other owners, it might mean changing the feed being offered to the horse. Your veterinary professional may wish to treat any diarrhea with medications to stop or slow it down so that any fluid loss can be reduced.  Otherwise, treatment will likely consist of giving fluids (intravenous or oral), switching to a quality, nutritious feed as well as keeping the horse calm, quiet and allowing him to rest.  Close monitoring will be necessary to assure that the horse is responding appropriately to the recommended treatment and is given additional medication if necessary for cardiac effects.

Recovery of Bluebell Poisoning in Horses

Recovery of your horse will likely take several weeks or months, depending on the severity of the poisoning.  Your veterinary professional will need to follow the recovery process of your horse to assure the treatment is working, especially in view of the fact that ingesting large of amounts of bluebell can cause the cardiac issues which are commonly associated with foxglove poisoning.  He may need to treat those cardiac issues or at least monitor them until safe levels are noted.  

Since this plant can also poison other animals in your herd, you will need to identify the pastures or fields which contain this and other poisonous plants and make every attempt to rid those forage areas of these plants.   This will need to be addressed so that you can protect the health of the remaining horses in your herd to keep them at optimum levels of production and performance.