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What is Coffee Senna Poisoning?

Coffee senna can be found in many regions with the interchangeable names of sicklepod and coffeeweed.  Toxicity from ingestion is not considered common but can happen.  Symptoms can be very vague and in many cases do not even develop until it is too late for a chance at recovery.  If you know you have this plant on your property, remove it.  If you witness you horse ingesting a part of it, call your veterinarian immediately.  The toxin found in the plant causes muscle tissue weakness and disease; there is no antidote.  Recovery from coffee senna poisoning is guarded to poor so prevention is the best thing you can offer your horse.

Symptoms of coffee senna toxicity may develop once it is too late to offer your horse a chance at recovery.  It can be fatal before symptoms even present.  If you witnessed your horse ingesting this plant, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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Symptoms of Coffee Senna Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms can vary but may include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea 
  • Incoordination
  • Muscle tremors 
  • Weakness 
  • Generalized stiffness
  • Lameness 
  • Dark or bloody urine
  • Presence of lesions on muscles, kidneys and liver
  • Recumbency
  • Death with or without any clinical signs 

Types

Scientifically, coffee senna is known by the genus Senna with varying species.  This genus was formerly known as Cassia but scientists are always reclassifying plants in order for better identification.  Other common names this plant is known as includes sickle pod and coffeeweed. Coffee senna is an annual legume that can grow up to 6.5 feet high, produce pinnately compound leaves, yellow flowers, and gives off a strong, distasteful odor.

Causes of Coffee Senna Poisoning in Horses

Coffee senna produces the toxin known as anthraquinones.  It can be found in both the seeds and fruit of the plant and primarily affects the gastrointestinal system and skeletal muscle.  The toxin causes irritation and mitochondrial myopathy once ingested and in your horse’s system.

Diagnosis of Coffee Senna Poisoning in Horses

When diagnosing coffee senna toxicity in your horse, the veterinarian will need to rule out other possible diseases with similar symptoms including white snakeroot toxicity, blister beetle toxicity, laminitis and colic.  She will begin with blood work to check the organ values and chemistry levels within the blood.  A complete blood count and chemistry panel will be run for general information.  If more detailed blood work is needed, further tests will be performed.

If there is blood in the urine or if it is unusually dark, a urinalysis will be recommended.  Your veterinarian will want to check for chemistry levels in the urine as well as check for infection and crystals.  A urinary tract infection can cause similar urine-related symptoms so it will need to be ruled out.  If crystals are present, it can be indicative of stones.  Further diagnostics, such as radiographs of the urinary system, may be recommended as well. 

If your horse is experiencing lameness or stiffness, she may recommend radiographs of his musculoskeletal system to check for a source.  Injury and/or joint problems will need to be ruled out by the veterinarian in order to come to a proper diagnosis.

Of course, if your horse dies without any signs of prior clinical symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend a necropsy to determine the exact cause.  With coffee senna poisoning, lesions can appear on the liver, kidney, and muscles.  It would be a good idea to allow the necropsy so you can ensure it does not happen to any of your other horses or animals.

Treatment of Coffee Senna Poisoning in Horses

There is no exact treatment your veterinarian can offer your horse.  She can provide supportive therapies and keep your horse comfortable.  You will need to remove the source of the poisoning immediately to prevent further ingestion.  The longer your horse ingests it, the higher his chances of suffering toxicity and dying.

In cases of toxicity, your veterinarian will start fluid therapy to ensure he stays hydrated and to keep his liver, kidneys, and urinary tract flowing.  This will also force his body to flush the toxin from his system faster since he will be receiving a constant inflow of fluids.

It would be a good idea to keep your horse stalled in order to closely monitor him and to keep him comfortable during treatments. Additional therapies will be determined by the symptoms your horse is experiencing.  She will treat symptomatically as symptoms appear.   Toxicity from coffee senna is a serious condition.  There is no antidote so the only thing your veterinarian can do is offer comfort for your horse.

Recovery of Coffee Senna Poisoning in Horses

Recovery from coffee senna toxicity will be determined by how quickly your horse’s condition is properly diagnosed.  If you witness your horse eating this plant, contact your veterinarian immediately in order to begin the detoxification process as soon as possible.  If it is a case where clinical symptoms do not develop in time for treatment and you did not witness your horse eating the plant, recovery is poor.