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What is Ground Ivy Poisoning?

Ground ivy is a low prostrate herb that has slender stems that will hug the ground. It covers many square feet and has two leaves per joint on the stalk. The leaves are roundish or scalloped and have small bluish flowers that appear from April to July.

It is rare to have a horse become ill from ground ivy poisoning. Most horses do not like the bitter taste of ground ivy. The most common cause of ground ivy poisoning is when the ground ivy is dried into hay and fed in large quantities.

Ground ivy is a common weed that is also known as creeping Charlie. It is most prolific in moist, shaded places. Generally, it is found about farmsteads, in wooded pastures, gardens, wastelands and fencerows. Ground ivy is also found near streams and in ditches. It is native to Europe but was transplanted to the United States.

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Symptoms of Ground Ivy Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms of plant poisonings are similar in a horse that is why it is important to know what plants your horse has access to and their toxicity. If you notice your horse acting odd or sick, contact your veterinarian immediately for an emergency visit. In cases of plant poisoning, seeking treatment too late can result in your horse’s death. Symptoms of ground ivy poisoning include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive salivation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Panting or breathing hard
  • Over-excitability
  • Over-stimulation

Causes of Ground Ivy Poisoning in Horses

Ground ivy is a part of the mint family and contains aromatic oil that is volatile. The plant, when eaten, is bitter and usually horses stay away from it. Ground ivy is collected and used medicinally in small amounts as a tonic and stimulant. 

All parts of the plant are toxic to horses and retain its toxicity even when dried into hay. Most horses will not feed on fresh ground ivy unless it is the only forage available. Horses must ingest large quantities for them to experience a toxic reaction. 

It is difficult to control ground ivy unless herbicides are used. Hand weeding and mowing are ineffective because the root system is left intact and the plant grows back. When using an herbicide, make sure that it is safe to use on pastures and will not cause more problems for your horse.

Diagnosis of Ground Ivy Poisoning in Horses

Before your veterinarian arrives, have a list of the symptoms that you have witnessed, when they occurred and also what your horse was doing when they occurred. If possible, have a sample of your horse’s hay and feed available for your veterinarian.

Once your veterinarian arrives, give them the list of symptoms you made and also the feed samples. Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and observe your horse’s symptoms. 

A urinalysis, fecal exam and complete blood count will probably be run to rule out any other diseases or toxins. Your veterinarian may also opt to run a feed analysis on the samples that you gave them. If there is ground ivy in the feed or hay, this will detect it. 

A quick assessment of your horse’s pasture may also give your veterinarian proof that your horse is suffering from ground ivy poisoning.

Treatment of Ground Ivy Poisoning in Horses

Your veterinarian will set up a treatment plan for your horse. Most likely this will include symptomatic treatments, or treating the symptoms as they present. Ground ivy poisoning is rarely fatal unless your horse ingests a significantly large quantity of ground ivy and treatments are not sought. 

Your horse will need to be stalled while undergoing treatments and not turned out into an affected pasture. Allow your horse to rest in a stress free environment while undergoing treatments to keep them from becoming excitable from the stimulating toxins.  

If you suspect that your horse’s hay is infected with ground ivy, do not feed them the hay. When cutting your own hay, make sure that your field is free of poisonous plants. If you are unsure if a plant is poisonous, consult your veterinarian or another expert. When purchasing hay, verify that the hay does not contain ground ivy or any other poisonous plant.

Recovery of Ground Ivy Poisoning in Horses

In general, ground ivy poisoning is not fatal when appropriate veterinary care is given. Your horse should make a full recovery with no lasting effects from ingesting ground ivy. Speak with your veterinarian regarding recovery time.

Prevent your horse from grazing in ground ivy infested pastures, especially if your pasture is sparse of other forage. Ground ivy is a weed and should be eradicated from any areas that your horse has access. Ground ivy is easily destroyed when cultivated. An animal safe herbicide will also eradicate ground ivy from pasture areas.