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What is Fringed Sage Poisoning?

Fringed sage is a flowering perennial with a woody base and leaves that are coated in silvery hairs and a dominant species in many of the drier areas in the United States. Although fringed sage is generally safe for horses to munch on in small amounts, these plants do contain several sesquiterpene lactones and aromatic monoterpenes which can cause intoxication to equines who eat large quantities of this plant. Horses who have consumed large quantities of these compounds may lose coordination and have unpredictable behaviors that dissipate after a few weeks of the elimination of fringed sage from the diet.

Fringed sage, although generally fairly safe, can become intoxicating when consumed in large amounts leading to loss of coordination and unpredictable behaviors.

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Symptoms of Fringed Sage Poisoning in Horses

The signs of poisoning by fringed sage are largely behavioral in nature. Some of the behaviors that you may see with this type of intoxication include:

  • Circling
  • Excitability
  • Loss of coordination (the front legs may be more affected that the rear legs) 
  • Tendency to fall down
  • Unpredictable behavior

You may notice a strong  scent of sage on the breath or in the manure as well.

Types

All sages contain the compounds that can cause neurological intoxication in horses. A few specific varieties have been implicated in the development of neurological symptoms. 

  • Budsage (Artemisia spinescens) - This type of Artemisia is particularly suited to salty regions and is found throughout the western United States
  • Fringed Sage (Artemisia frigida) - Fringed sage is commonly located in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains in the United States and in Europe and Asia; his plant also goes by the names prairie sagewort and arctic sage
  • Sand Sage (Artemisia filifolia) - Also known as silver sagebrush and silvery wormwood, this variety of sage is a dominant species of plant in the western and central portions of the United States

Causes of Fringed Sage Poisoning in Horses

All of the plants in the Artemisia family contain varying amounts of sesquiterpene lactones as well as aromatic monoterpenes like camphor and thujone. These naturally occurring chemicals can cause an intoxicated state in horses known as sage sickness when eaten in significant quantities. In most cases, horses do not find these plants particularly tasty and usually is only a concern when there are no other sources of forage available. This frequently occurs in fields that are overgrazed and when the snow hides other forage options, and the toxins are most concentrated in the plant during the fall and winter seasons.

Diagnosis of Fringed Sage Poisoning in Horses

Your veterinarian will most likely start by taking samples to evaluate standard tests like a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count, to check for toxins that are detectable in the blood or infections, however, the lactones and monoterpenes are not revealed from these tests.

A full physical examination will also be performed at this time, and your veterinarian will want to take note of any plants that are growing in the fields or stabling area as well as information regarding any other supplements or prescriptions that are being administered to your horse. This will help to uncover any drug interactions or toxins that could induce the same symptoms as sage sickness. A sample of the horse’s feces will also be evaluated, and the smell of sage, as well as plant material found in the feces, may assist the examiner in determining an accurate diagnosis. The veterinarian may also choose to perform neurological tests to help assess the horse’s current functionality.

Treatment of Fringed Sage Poisoning in Horses

No specific antidotes are available for the toxic compounds that are produced in the plants of the Artemisia family so preliminary treatments will generally be focused on supportive therapies. Horses that are intoxicated by fringed sage may fail to adequately care for themselves and are at an increased risk of injury. Horses that show signs of dehydration will receive intravenous fluid therapy, which will also provide any needed balance to the levels of electrolytes and sugars present in the blood.

Any injuries that may have occurred due to lack of coordination will be addressed at this time as well. Once any immediate supportive requirements are satisfied the primary course of action will be the normalization of the horse’s diet. The affected horse should not be grazed in any pastures that contain either fringed sage or other plants that contain sesquiterpene lactones, such as other sage varieties, mugwort, or burdock, among others, and should be placed on a balanced diet.

Recovery of Fringed Sage Poisoning in Horses

The prognosis for poisoning by any type of plant in the Artemisia family is quite good, and most animals recover completely within one to two weeks. Although the intoxication from eating too much fringed sage are easily reversible in most cases, the loss of coordination and the mental obstruction can lead to dangerous levels of disorientation as well as injuries. As horses aren’t generally drawn to sage, just ensuring that there are enough alternate varieties of forage for the animal to choose from will generally prevent the horse from getting intoxicated. Sage that is consumed in smaller quantities does not cause the same toxic reactions.