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What is Cow Cockle Poisoning ?

Cow cockle is a plant that produces the toxin saponin.  While the exact role of a saponin in a plant is unknown, if ingested it can poison your horse.  The symptoms it can cause can range from mild to severe.  There is no antidote so treatment to poisoning is supportive.  Prognosis of recovery will depend on the severity of your horse’s symptoms.

Cow cockle poisoning can range from mild to severe.  Symptoms can vary from simple weight loss to blindness.  If you suspect your horse ingested any amount of cow cockle, contact your veterinarian.

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Symptoms of Cow Cockle Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms of cow cockle poisoning can vary, but symptoms may include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia 
  • Listlessness
  • Rough hair coat
  • Diarrhea
  • Gastroenteritis 
  • Cortical blindness
  • Hepatic failure 

Types

Cow cockle is known scientifically as Saponaria vaccaria.  Other common names this plant goes by include cow-herb, china-cockle, cockle, and cow basil.  This plant was originally from Europe and is very similar to corn-cockle.  This plant blooms annually; height can range from one to three feet high, with smooth and succulent leaves, with pale red blossoms that bloom in July.  Seeds of the plant ripen around August and are in a five-angled pod.

Causes of Cow Cockle Poisoning in Horses

Cow cockle contains the toxic ingredient known as saponin.  It is a glycoside found in many different types of plants.  It is said to have soap like qualities in which it forms foam.  The exact role of the saponin within the plant is unknown.  When ingested in large amount or for extended periods of time, it can hurt your horse.

Diagnosis of Cow Cockle Poisoning in Horses

To begin her diagnosis, your veterinarian will start by performing a full physical exam.  She will make note of all of his symptoms and get details from you about when they started and if they have been getting worse.  The smallest detail may help her rule out other possible causes of his symptoms and get to a proper diagnosis quicker.   

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 there is an abnormality with his liver values, she may want to run more detailed blood related tests.  

If your horse is having diarrhea or gastrointestinal upset in any way, she may want to run diagnostics on his feces.  She will need to rule out other possible causes of this symptom, such as bacterial overgrowth or parasite infection that can also cause diarrhea and upset.

If blindness is a symptom he is experiencing, your veterinarian will want to run a series of neurologic tests to try and find the source of blindness.  She will also test the eye specifically for the cause of issue.  She will check each part of the eye and may even perform tests to check for a scratch, ulcer, or check ophthalmic pressure. There may be additional tests your veterinarian will want to run in order to rule out other possible causes of your horse’s ailment.

Treatment of Cow Cockle Poisoning in Horses

If your horse is experiencing a lack of appetite, the veterinarian may try to tube feed him in order to keep his digestive system moving.  If his GI tract comes to a halt, it can lead to additional symptoms.  Lack of good nutrition can contribute to his poor coat so getting him to eat will help with this as well. 

Fluid therapy will be started to keep your horse hydrated.  Diarrhea is a huge source of water loss so ensuring he does not become dehydrated is imperative.  It will also keep fluids in his system to flush his liver, kidneys, and the rest of his urinary tract.

If your horse is blind, he will need to be closely monitored and kept in a safe space. For example, keeping him in a barn-like shelter will keep him safe from predators versus if he was on pasture and could not see danger approach.  It will also ensure he does not accidentally hurt himself by walking into something or falling down. For the hepatic failure, there are supportive therapies she can administer.  This may include oral medications, injections, or supplements.

Recovery of Cow Cockle Poisoning in Horses

Prognosis of recovery from cow cockle poisoning will be related to how much he ingested and in what amount of time.  If your horse is experiencing mild symptoms of loss of appetite and rough hair coat and treatment begins, prognosis is good. However, if symptoms worsen and he develops blindness or liver failure, prognosis becomes guarded to poor.