What is Chokecherry Tree Poisoning?
Chokecherry tree poisoning occurs from the toxins cyanide glycosides that are found in the seeds and leaves of these trees. When ingested, death most often occurs within minutes to a few hours. Many horse owners have found their horse dead in the field with no idea of what happened until an autopsy can be performed.
When your horse ingests cyanide, the cyanide will interact with the iron within your horse’s body. This will create problems because it will completely stop cellular respiration. Without cellular respiration, oxygen cannot be carried throughout the body. Your horse will suffocate to death without immediate treatment. In most cases, even quick treatments cannot stop death from occurring.
Ornamental trees and shrubs, such as chokecherry trees, apricot trees, and peach trees are often found near pastures since they make excellent windbreaks. These trees, members of the Prunus, species can be deadly to not just horses, but all animals. Remove all Prunus trees and shrubs from your horse’s pasture. Also remove all trees and shrubs that are within reach of your horse while they are in the pasture or in their stall.
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Symptoms of Chokecherry Tree Poisoning in Horses
In most cases, death occurs within minutes of ingesting the leaves or seeds of the chokecherry tree. There are rare instances where you will witness symptoms that point toward chokecherry tree poisoning and your horse has not yet expired and an antidote can be administered to nullify the effects of the toxins. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for an emergency visit.
- Labored breathing
- Flared nostrils
- Loss of bladder and bowels
- Lack of coordination
- Severe trembling
- Extreme agitation
Causes of Chokecherry Tree Poisoning in Horses
Chokecherry trees are poisonous to horses because of the toxin that they produce. Cyanide glycosides are extremely lethal to not just horses but to all animals. The leaves of the chokecherry tree are at their most toxic state when they are wilted or stressed. This is when the most cyanide is being produced.
Cyanide is lethal because it will react with the iron within your horse’s body. This stops cellular respiration. It prevents oxygen from being transported through the bloodstream. This essentially causes your horse to suffocate.
Diagnosis of Chokecherry Tree Poisoning in Horses
Your veterinarian will complete a fully physical examination of your horse. They will also ask you questions regarding your horse’s diet and exercise regime. A walk through of your horse’s pasture area will most likely be done, looking for any foliage that can be toxic to your horse.
Clinical symptoms and laboratory testing will determine definitively that your horse is suffering from chokecherry tree poisoning. Once chokecherry tree poisoning has been diagnosed, treatments should begin immediately for any hope of saving your horse from death. Your veterinarian will walk you through the treatment plan and explain the risks as well as any long term effects that your horse may suffer from this poisoning.
Treatment of Chokecherry Tree Poisoning in Horses
In most cases of chokecherry tree poisoning, the opportunity to begin treatments is rare. For most horses that ingest chokecherry tree leaves or seeds, death will occur within a very short time frame. Treatments are available and have had success in stopping the effects of the poison within a horse’s system.
Immediate supportive care will be needed. This includes intravenous fluids to keep your horse hydrated. Your horse will need to be hospitalized and monitored constantly for supportive care to be effective.
An antidote of sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate will be administered intravenously. This antidote will remove the toxins from your horse’s system and stop the intoxication from progressing further.
Recovery of Chokecherry Tree Poisoning in Horses
Horses that survive chokecherry tree poisoning can make a full recovery with a lot of supportive care and basic TLC. Be sure to follow all care instructions that your veterinarian provides to ensure that your horse makes a full recovery. If you have any questions regarding your horse’s treatments and after care, you should contact your veterinarian and complete all follow up appointments with your veterinarian.
Prevention is the best way to avoid chokecherry tree poisoning. Trees should never be planted in or near your horse’s pasture. If there are preexisting trees or shrubs in or near your horse’s pasture, they should be completely removed. Never feed any tree or shrub trimmings to your horse or leave them where your horse can reach them. Properly dispose of all potentially harmful foliage to ensure that your horse is not exposed to them. Proper pasture maintenance can save your horse’s life.