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Cycad palms contain more than one toxic compound. The first is glycoside cycasin, which causes gastrointestinal problems and liver death. Secondly, beta-methylamino-L-alanine which is a potent neurotoxin, and finally, a yet to be identified toxin that attacks the nervous system. The cycad is a plant you do not want your horse to come in contact with. Fortunately, horses are not typically attracted specifically to these palms, but in certain circumstances like boredom or lack of food available, they may turn to the palatable leaves which can be disastrous.
Cycads are a deep green ornamental palm that cause damage to the liver, digestive and nervous systems because of a particularly fast-acting toxin.
Clinical signs appear shortly after your horse has eaten cycads, and you will notice the effects. It usually begins within three hours of eating the plant (depending on the amount eaten), and symptoms include lack of coordination, diarrhea, depression and seizures. Check to find the plant that has caused this reaction, your horse may even still have bits of the ingested plant in their mouth or saliva. This is a quick-acting toxin so call your veterinarian immediately. He will base his diagnosis on the clinical signs and may also want to analyse a sample of your horse’s fecal matter and urine. Blood tests will be indicative of the effect of the toxin on the organs but time may not permit the evaluation of results before therapy is needed.
The seeds of the cycad have the highest concentration of toxin – a single seed can cause a powerful reaction. Although these plants are usually a garden plant, because they look so green and have a stunning effect in a landscape garden, more and more people are using them to decorate around farms and along boundaries. This is like a personal invitation to your horse to have a try of this new plant, so keep these plants well away and out of reach of your curious horse. Prevention is always the easiest option, and this attractive but prehistoric plant is best kept away from any hungry animal.
Even with care and treatment, the prognosis is poor. There is no specific antidote but the use of IV fluids and symptomatic care are recommended. Veterinarian help is essential, and he may run additional blood tests and advise on the use of charcoal to absorb the toxin. Your specialist may administer medications via injection to stabilise and treat the effects that this toxin is having on your horse’s body, namely the liver and brain, and the gastrointestinal tract. Quick action is essential as this toxin is fast acting and without aggressive intervention death will occur.
If treatment begins before your horse starts experiencing liver failure, and they received liver medication protectants along with the charcoal the prognosis is a lot more positive. Whenever you are planning a new addition to your garden, learn about the plant to ensure you are not introducing a toxic plant that can harm your horse or other animals. Your horse is a curious animal and will give anything a go if he is slightly bored or hungry.
Recovery from this toxin can be slow and your horse will need time and care to heal completely. Depending on the damage done, it may take many months before intensive exercising can be added to the list of daily activity. Given the benefit of a quality source of food, and time for the damage within to be restored, recovery depends on how quickly treatment was given after ingesting the toxin. As always, care needs to be taken when designing new gardens, or maintaining pastures.
Any lapse in pasture management can allow dangerous plants to gain a foothold and in times of drought it is the hardy weeds that can gain the upper hand. New gardens designed to enhance the property must be considered carefully, as what looks pretty and harmless can be the most potent of all the plants. So, do your homework on exotic plants and your horse, they don’t always go together as well as you might expect.
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