What is Jerusalem Oak Poisoning?
Jerusalem oak is a part of the Chenopodiaceae plant family and it contains cyanogenic glycosides, oxalates and nitrates. These compounds are not usually harmful in small quantities but when the plant produces higher levels of these toxins, it becomes harmful to animals and humans.
The oil from Jerusalem oak is used for many medicinal purposes and some people who practice homeopathic medicine may grow Jerusalem oak near their home. The oil is used for rheumatism, eczema, insect bites and painful joints. A tea can be made from the plant to help with cramps, nervousness and depression. It is also used to expel intestinal worms. Washes can also be made to treat hemorrhoids.
Jerusalem oak is also known as feather geranium, chenopodium, goosefoot, Jesuit tea, Mexican tea or Ambrosia Mexicana and is a plant that can cause anorexia and depression in your horse when ingested. Skin irritation can occur if your horse rubs against the plant. Jerusalem oak is found throughout the world as an ornamental plant.
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Symptoms of Jerusalem Oak Poisoning in Horses
Jerusalem oak poisoning can be a very deadly condition for your horse. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that your horse is suffering from any form of poisoning. Symptoms of Jerusalem oak poisoning to watch for include:
- Skin irritation, especially around the mouth
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Increased respiration
- Labored breathing
- Weakness or sleepiness
- Ataxia or loss of coordination
- Irregular heartbeat
Causes of Jerusalem Oak Poisoning in Horses
Jerusalem oak contains cyanogenic glycosides, oxalates and nitrates which can become harmful when the plant is stressed and exposed to a harsher environment like a drought. Your horse can eat small amounts of Jerusalem oak and not experience any side effects unless the plant has become stressed and produced higher levels of toxins. The toxins remain even when the plant is dried, therefore, hay can become contaminated if Jerusalem oak is present.
The toxins will transform into nitrite within your horse’s body. This will result in your horse being unable to get enough oxygen to their cells since nitrite will absorb the oxygen before your horse’s body can use it.
Diagnosis of Jerusalem Oak Poisoning in Horses
If you actually see your horse eating the Jerusalem oak plant collect a sample of the plant for your veterinarian. If you do not see your horse eating the plant, do a quick walk-through of your horse’s pasture and search for any plants that could harm your horse. Collect samples for your veterinarian and also collect a sample of your horse’s hay in case the plant was cut and dried into the hay.
Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination. They will pay close attention to your horse’s mouth. If there is a rash or the skin on your horse’s mouth is irritated, your veterinarian may be able to diagnose Jerusalem oak poisoning without having to go any further.
If no irritation around the mouth is present then a complete blood count, urinalysis and fecal examination will need to be done. These tests will help rule out any other possible illnesses. Many times, Jerusalem oak poisoning will closely mimic cyanide poisoning so a CBC will rule out that illness. Blood that is dark brown in color instead of a deep red will be a solid indication that your horse is suffering from nitrite poisoning caused from ingesting Jerusalem oak.
Treatment of Jerusalem Oak Poisoning in Horses
Your veterinarian will set up a treatment plan for your horse which may include hospitalization. Supportive care will be started immediately to keep your horse from becoming more ill due to dehydration or starvation.
As symptoms present, your veterinarian will treat each symptom either with medications or vitamins and/or minerals. Activated charcoal will be given orally to absorb any toxins that are still in your horse’s stomach. Methylene blue, an oxidation-reduction agent, may also be used to counteract the nitrites that are present in your horse’s bloodstream. Methylene blue is given intravenously. Some veterinarians may use mineral oil as a cathartic to speed up the expulsion of the nitrates from your horse’s body.
Recovery of Jerusalem Oak Poisoning in Horses
Your horse’s recovery from Jerusalem oak poisoning is dependent on how quickly medical treatments can begin. In some cases, the toxins are too intense and death occurs. In most cases where treatments are quick and aggressive, your horse is able to make a full recovery.
Know what is in your horse’s pasture and remove any plants or weeds that may be harmful to your horse. If you are unsure about a specific plant, err on the side of caution and remove it. Take a sample of it to your veterinarian and ask if it is toxic to your horse.