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What is Burning Bush Poisoning?

While many horses do not eat the burning bush plant, it can happen, especially in seasons of drought or poor vegetation and the burning bush is all he is left with to forage on.  This plant can be found in many regions of differing climates and differing soil types.  In some regions, this plant is known by its other common names of wahoo or spindle tree.  If ingested by your horse, symptoms can be vague which can lead to a difficult diagnosis.  There are many types of illnesses and ailments that can cause similar symptoms in your horse.  This causes the veterinarian to have to do a differential diagnosis, meaning coming to a diagnosis on a rule out basis.  While there is no antidote to this toxicity, most horses do well with supportive therapy from their veterinarian.

There are toxins the burning bush plant produces that can be detrimental to your horse’s health if he ingests it.  If you witnessed your horse eating this plant or suspect he may have, contact your veterinarian for a health check.

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Symptoms of Burning Bush Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities

Types

The burning bush plant belongs to the Celastraceae family and the scientific name of Euonymus atropurpurea.  It is also known by the common names of wahoo and spindle tree.  It is said to have a bittersweet taste and is therefore, disagreeable to many horses upon ingestion.  This family of plants can be found spread throughout many regions and varying climates.

Causes of Burning Bush Poisoning in Horses

The burning bush plant produces the toxic components alkaloids and cardenolides.  Cardenolide is a cardiac glycoside that can have a negative effect on the one who ingested it if taken in excess.  Different alkaloids can have a different effect on each horse.  It is similar to that of a strong pain medication such as morphine.  If too much is ingested, the result can be devastating.

Diagnosis of Burning Bush Poisoning in Horses

The veterinarian will suggest your horse be moved to a quiet stall for the examination. She will want to perform lab work so she can check his organ values and levels in his blood.  She will suggest a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel to check for abnormalities.  If your horse seems to be suffering from abdominal pain, your veterinarian may want to take a radiograph of his gastrointestinal tract.  This will allow her to check for a blockage, look to see if if he ingested an object that is now causing an issue, and evaluate the overall health of the gastrointestinal tract.  

Not much research has been done on horse toxicity from burning bush ingestion so there is not much information available.  If your veterinarian has never seen this first hand before, she will likely have to come to an exact cause by ruling out other possible causes of his symptoms.

Treatment of Burning Bush Poisoning in Horses

While there is no antidote to burning bush toxicity, your veterinarian can provide your horse with supportive care.  She can administer medications and supplemental therapies in response to the symptoms he develops.  She may want to start him on fluid therapy in an attempt to flush the toxin from his body quicker.  The fluids will also ensure he does not become dehydrated if he is experiencing diarrhea.

Each case of burning bush toxicity is different so medications and therapies administered will vary.  It will all be determined by his symptoms and the therapies your veterinarian has available to offer.  Your horse may even develop symptoms not listed above as not much is known about this type of toxicity in horses.  If this occurs, your veterinarian will still be able to provide him with supportive care and administer therapies as she sees fit.

Recovery of Burning Bush Poisoning in Horses

The symptoms your horse is experiencing will play a role in his recovery process.  As long as you remove the plant source from your horse and he receives veterinary attention in a timely manner, his prognosis of recovery should be good.  If left untreated or if ingestion of the plant continues, your horse’s prognosis declines.