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What is Golden Chain Tree Poisoning ?

The Laburnum tree, more commonly referred to as the Golden Chain or Golden Rain tree, is a deciduous tree in the pea family. This tree is often used as an ornamental tree outdoors due to its attractive appearance, but it should be kept well away from any areas where your horse grazes. The toxic alkaloid cytisine is present in every part of the plant and eating it can result in gastrointestinal and central nervous system disruptions, and in large enough amounts, toxicity from this plant can be fatal.

The Golden Chain tree, scientifically known as a Laburnum tree, contains the toxic alkaloid cytisine. All parts of the plant contain this toxin, and it should be eliminated from the horse’s daily environment.

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Symptoms of Golden Chain Tree Poisoning in Horses

Many of the symptoms of poisoning by the Golden Chain tree occur quite quickly, often within just a few minutes of the ingestion of the plant material. 

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Colic
  • Coma
  • Convulsions 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Drowsiness
  • Excessive salivation
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea
  • Unequally dilated pupils

Types

The moniker Golden Chain or Golden Rain tree is usually referring to one of two Laburnum species. Both of these varieties have an abundance of yellow pea flowers that hang down from the tree in the spring and early summer, and both develop pea pods in the late summer and fall. 

  • Laburnum alpinum - Native to Central and Southern Europe, this tree has also been naturalized in Scotland; it is shorter than Laburnum anagyroides at a maximum of around 16 feet tall
  • Laburnum anagyroides - This variety, native to Central and Southern Europe, is the taller of the two, growing up to 23 feet tall

Causes of Golden Chain Tree Poisoning in Horses

Laburnum trees, also known as Golden Chain trees or Golden Rain trees, produce an alkaloid by the name of cytisine, a chemical very similar in nature to nicotine although much milder. This chemical is an agonist of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors that are found in the skeletal muscle and within the autonomic nervous system.

Diagnosis of Golden Chain Tree Poisoning in Horses

The identification of the golden chain tree near the pasture or stables will help to make a preliminary diagnosis. During the examination, the veterinarian will gather as much information as possible relating to the amount of plant material that may have been ingested and how long it has been since it was consumed. A comprehensive history of the animal in question can also provide a great deal of knowledge to the evaluator, including information about the horse’s medications, diet, and the elements of their environment.

Your veterinarian will also evaluate the results from standard blood tests such as a complete blood count and a biochemistry profile to see if any infections or any blood sugar imbalances are present as well as establishing what levels of liver and kidney enzymes are found in the patient’s blood. Fecal matter will also be floated to check for parasites, and the presence of plant material in the manure may help to confirm the initial diagnosis.

Treatment of Golden Chain Tree Poisoning in Horses

If material from the golden chain tree was ingested within the last few hours, then your horse’s doctor will need to perform a gastric lavage procedure in order to remove as much of the toxic material from the patient’s digestive system as possible, and the stomach contents will be submitted for further evaluation. Once that majority of the plant material has been eliminated from the gastric system activated charcoal is typically administered to the horse as it can prevent further absorption of the cytisine alkaloids into the bloodstream.

There are no antidotes for the toxic alkaloids that are produced by the laburnum tree, so treatments beyond decontamination are usually focused on supportive therapies. Supportive treatments for poisoning may include intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and combinations of electrolytes and sugars in order to adjust for any imbalances that develop during the recovery period, and anti-inflammatory medications may be administered to control any pain or swelling.

Recovery of Golden Chain Tree Poisoning in Horses

The prognosis for animals that are poisoned by the Laburnum tree is dependant on how much of the plant was consumed and how long it was between consumption of the plant and the decontamination of the patient. In most cases, horses recover from the poisoning relatively quickly, but in severe cases, it can be lethal. It is best to ensure that none of these trees are close enough to your horse's daily environment for the animal to eat. Remember that with trees such as the Golden Chain tree, chopping down the plant does not eliminate the threat as all parts of the tree are toxic, and the stumps can be prone to growing new shoots.