What is Jimson Weed Poisoning?
Jimson weed can be found virtually anywhere in the continental U.S., southern parts of Canada and in other countries as well. It is not particularly tasty nor does it have a pleasant odor to your equine and, accordingly, it is not their first choice of pasture forage if other sources are available. Actually, jimson weed poisoning is more common in human children as they find the flowers to be particularly attractive and have been known to ingest small quantities of the plant.
Jimson weed, it’s scientific name Datura Stramonium L., is a plant that can be found virtually anywhere in the continental United States and parts of southern Canada. This plant is toxic to both horses and humans, causing hallucinogenic episodes, central nervous system issues and sometimes death in both species.
Symptoms of Jimson Weed Poisoning in Horses
The symptoms of jimson weed poisoning can present within minutes of ingestion. Here are some of the earlier ones that have been noted:
- Behavioral changes - restlessness, depression, nervousness
- Polydipsia - excessive thirst
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Muscular twitching
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
Here are some symptoms which have been noted in fatal cases of jimson weed poisoning:
- Weak pulse
- Irregular breathing
- Decreased body temperature
- Retained urine
The animals in whom this poisoning is commonly found are horses, cattle, goats, sheep, swine and poultry. Since human poisoning happens more often than livestock poisoning, this causes jimson weed to be different from most plants which are poisonous.
There is only one type of jimson weed poisoning and it is known to cause behavioral changes as noted above, heart rhythm changes which have been mistaken for heart attacks, excessive thirst, convulsions, trembling, coma and sometimes even death of the afflicted horse or other animal or human. Virtually all animals are susceptible to the tropane alkaloid toxicity which is the root cause of the poisoning.
Causes of Jimson Weed Poisoning in Horses
The effects of jimson weed poisoning in horses come essentially from the tropane alkaloid content. While there are sixty-four different types of tropane alkaloids, it’s the atropine and scopolamine that comes into play in jimson weed poisoning. These tropane alkaloids have an affect on the central nervous system which can include things related to the heart and muscle control as well as others. It is the effect on the central nervous system which causes above named symptoms which, also as noted above, in some cases can lead to death. The good thing about jimson weed is that is not particularly tasty to your horse and doesn’t have a pleasant smell, accordingly, he will only eat it if other forage is scarce.
Diagnosis of Jimson Weed Poisoning in Horses
Diagnosis of jimson weed poisoning is essentially done by thorough physical examination by your vet, a complete history from you and observation of clinical signs and symptoms. Dilation of pupils, muscle twitching, diarrhea and frequent urination can point the veterinarian in the direction of a plant poisoning. A walk about the pasture may confirm diagnosis, but this may be done after therapy has commenced. Your vet will likely develop a treatment plan to initiate quickly once he has had the opportunity to examine your horse. Because the poisoning can become a problem for some horses quickly, getting medical attention as soon as possible is essential.
Treatment of Jimson Weed Poisoning in Horses
Treatment will likely be consistent with the symptoms and clinical signs being exhibited by your horse. Activated charcoal is generally a treatment of choice of most veterinary professionals to attempt to absorb and eliminate the toxin within the digestive system of your horse to curb the continued advancement of the toxin into the horse’s system. Of course, it goes without saying that removal of the horse from the pasture or environment from which he ate the jimson weed will be your first step in the treatment process. Removal of the toxin will limit the damage and suffering from the effects of the toxin on his body. Keeping the horse rested, comfortable and safe will also be components of the treatment regimen.
Recovery of Jimson Weed Poisoning in Horses
Recovery for most horses who suffer from jimson weed poisoning is generally good, if appropriate and timely medical intervention is provided. Expect to have recommendations for specific stall rest and keeping your horse comfortable and as stress-free as possible to promote healing and recuperation. All possible steps should be taken to eliminate the jimson weed from your pasture areas and care should be taken to only feed quality hay and be watchful of any possible dried jimson weed which may have been harvested with the hay. Preventative measures will reduce the opportunity for other horses in your herd to suffer and possibly die from jimson weed poisoning.