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What is Cypress Spurge Poisoning?

Also known as Euphorbia cyparissias L, Graveyard Spurge and Graveyard Weed, Cypress Spurge is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family, or the Spurge family. First brought to North America as an ornamental plant in the 1860’s, Cypress Spurge is now often planted in cemeteries.

The Cypress Spurge is an erect, perennial plant that can grow to 12 inches in height. It includes many bright green leaves that alternate along the stem. Bright yellow-green flowers that evolve to a purple-red as they reach maturation are present at the top of the plant from May through August. The plant includes a fruit that will split once it matures and spread seeds over 16 feet.

Cypress Spurge does best in dry to moist, sandy, gravelly or calcareous soils and can be found in meadows, pastures, road sides, cemeteries, dunes and grasslands.

Cypress Spurge, or Euphorbia cyparissias L, can lead to skin irritation in your horse upon contact as well as gastrointestinal symptoms and collapse upon ingestion of the plant.

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Symptoms of Cypress Spurge Poisoning in Horses

If your horse comes in contact with Cypress Spurge, he may experience skin irritation and inflammation. Should your horse ingest Cypress Spurge, he may develop diarrhea and/or collapse. Toxicity from Cypress Spurge can be fatal in a horse when a significant amount of the plant is consumed.

  • Diarrhea
  • Skin inflammation
  • Skin irritation
  • Collapse

Types 

The Euphorbia family contains a number of species to include:

  • Euphorbia corollata L., known as the Flowering Spurge, which flowers from May through September is distributed all over; the plant has medicinal uses; it has been used in small amounts for diaphoresis
  • Euphorbia heterophylla L.also known as Fire-on-the-mountain, is often seen in the Midwest and is becoming more common in the east
  • Euphorbia marginata Pursh-also known as Snow-on-the-mountain; can grow up to 2 meters in height with alternate leaves in an ovate to elliptical shape
  • Euphorbia maculata L is also known as Wartweed

Causes of Cypress Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Cypress Spurge plants include a toxic latex which will be released as a milky sap upon the plant being damaged (which would happen upon ingestion). The sap contains diterpenoids which will be toxic when consumed in large doses. This can lead to skin irritation in your horse upon his coming in contact with the sap as well as stomach upset should he ingest it. 

When ingested in small doses, you may not see any impact or observe only minimal symptoms. Should your horse ingest a large amount, it can be very toxic, whether in its fresh or dried forms. Fortunately, the plant is not considered to be palatable to horses.

Diagnosis of Cypress Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Should you notice your horse ingesting Cypress Spurge, or suspect he may have based on symptoms you are observing, you will want to have your horse examined by your veterinarian. Make sure to bring a sample of the plant that you saw your horse ingest (or think that he may have) as this will help in determining a diagnosis. You will be asked about the symptoms you noticed in your horse, when you first noticed them and any changes that have occurred.

After conducting a physical examination, depending on his observations, your veterinarian may choose to conduct additional diagnostic testing. This can include a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel as these will provide information on how the organs are filtering the toxin and help in determining how to treat your horse.

Treatment of Cypress Spurge Poisoning in Horses

While there is no antidote to the poisoning, supportive therapies can be administered based on the symptoms that your horse develops. Should your horse experience symptoms based on the toxin having contact with his eyes or skin, your veterinarian may consider flushing the area that has been affected as well as administering medication to alleviate pain and inflammation. If he experiences swelling in his mouth it can impact his appetite and ability to eat and drink so intravenous fluids may be administered in order for him to avoid dehydration as well as flush the toxin out of his system. Your horse’s prognosis will depend on how much of the toxin was ingested as well as how severe his symptoms are.

Recovery of Cypress Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Should your horse experience Cypress Spurge poisoning, you will want to work closely with your veterinarian as your horse recovers. Follow up appointments may be recommended so that your veterinarian can check on your horse’s progress. 

It will be important for you to examine the areas where your horse has access to ensure that Cypress Spurge and any other plant that may be toxic to your horse be removed so that your horse does not experience further toxicity.