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What is Delphinium Species Poisoning?

Most delphinium species are found in the midwest but since they can be used as ornamental plants in landscaping, delphinium species are being transplanted to all over the United States. Symptoms can begin to present within one to four hours of ingesting delphinium species. 

There is no antidote that can stop or reverse delphinium species poisoning, however, supportive care and symptomatic treatments can be given to sustain your horse as the toxins work through their system.

The delphinium species of plants have irregular flowers that are purple, blue or white. Delphiniums are also known as larkspur and are very toxic to horses. The young delphinium plants are less poisonous than mature plants. Even though the entire plant is toxic, the seeds are the most toxic part of the plant.

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Symptoms of Delphinium Species Poisoning in Horses

If you notice your horse is acting odd or sickly, remove them from their pasture and put them in a clean stall that has a thick layer of bedding. Contact your veterinarian for an emergency call. Then investigate your horse’s pasture, looking for any possible plants that could have poisoned your horse. Collect samples of any potentially dangerous plants and also collect a sample of your horse’s hay. Symptoms to watch for include:

  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Staggering or falling
  • Seizures
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Constipation
  • Muscle tremors or convulsions
  • Increased salivation
  • Lung and/or heart failure
  • Death

Causes of Delphinium Species Poisoning in Horses

Delphinium species have many different diterpenoid alkaloid toxins including delphinidin, delphinine and ajacine. Within the dried seeds of delphinium plants calcatripine toxins are found, as well as gallic, aconitic acids, resin, volatile oil and fixed oil. 

Usually, horses do not eat delphinium species because they have a strong taste and smell that is not palatable. Horses will only feed on delphiniums when they are hungry and forage is sparse, this is typically during winter months or in times of drought when other plants are not easily found. 

Delphinium species remain toxic even when dried. Therefore, owners can accidentally poison their horse by feeding them hay that is contaminated with different delphinium species.

Diagnosis of Delphinium Species Poisoning in Horses

Your veterinarian may have a difficult time determining the exact cause of your horse’s illness, especially when so many of the delphinium species have similar symptoms to other poisonous plants. Analyzing suspicious plants from your horse’s pasture or hay is a good place for your veterinarian to start looking. 

Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination on your horse, searching for anything that might them what has caused your horse’s illness. They will pay close attention to your horse’s mouth, looking for any plant matter that may still be present. Samples will be collected if any plant matter is found.

Your veterinarian will also want to perform a complete blood count, serum analysis, urinalysis and fecal examination. In some instances, a definitive diagnosis cannot be made until a necropsy can be performed.

Treatment of Delphinium Species Poisoning in Horses

Treatments must be started immediately to counteract the toxins that have already affected your horse. There is no set treatment or antidote that will stop the toxins and reverse the effects of the toxins. 

Depending on the severity of the delphinium species poisoning, your veterinarian may recommend that your horse be hospitalized for continual monitoring and supportive care. Supportive care will include intravenous fluid and nutrition therapy. Intravenous fluids will be used to keep your horse from becoming dehydrated and it will also aid in flushing the toxins from your horse’s body. 

Activated charcoal will be administered by mouth. It will help to absorb and bind any toxins still in your horse’s stomach, preventing further poisoning. Magnesium sulfate may also be administered to counteract the effects of the toxins and to help regulate your horse’s heart rate.

Recovery of Delphinium Species Poisoning in Horses

Your horse’s prognosis will be guarded. Once your veterinarian begins treatments and sees how your horse is responding they will give a more in depth prognosis for your horse. Be sure to follow all care instructions as they are given and if you have any questions regarding your horse’s treatment or recovery time direct them to your veterinarian. 

Practice good pasture management by knowing what plants are growing in your horse’s pasture. Perform a weekly walk through of your horse’s pasture and any area where your horse has access. Immediately eradicate any plant that may be potentially poisonous to your horse. If you are unsure about a specific plant, take a sample to your veterinarian and they can tell you if it is safe for your horse.