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What is Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning?

This tree is native to many areas and is very large making it a hazard as the leaves can easily spread over your property. It is important to be familiar with the areas in which your horse grazes and spends his time. This plant, if consumed in any part, can be lethal to your horse. All components  of this poisonous tree can contain levels of hydrocyanic acid, saponins, and quinolizidine alkaloids (cytisine).

Due to the symptoms being similar to any other toxic poisoning, it may be difficult to identify that your horse has ingested the Kentucky coffee tree. Veterinary intervention is imperative if your horse is displaying signs of being unwell; diarrhea, respiratory trouble, and muscle spasms are just three of the signs that a toxicity has occurred. Poisoning resulting from ingestion of the Kentucky Coffee Tree can be serious or even fatal.

The Kentucky coffee tree (Gymnocladus dioica) is deadly to many animals including horses. This plant is found readily in the United States and if consumed in any form can be toxic to your horse. This can include water contaminated with the toxins or even leaves with the toxin on them.

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Symptoms of Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms typically appear within an hour of ingestion.

  • Gastrointestinal problems – Your horse may not have an appetite, may appear to have an upset stomach or have discomfort 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Difficulty breathing – Respiration can become labored and difficult for him if he has been exposed to the toxins
  • Convulsions – Once poisoned, your horse may experience seizures 
  • Paralysis – You may notice paralysis of his face or body after exposure 
  • Muscle spasms – This can be seen in his face, neck, legs, back and more 
  • Death can result within 1 day of onset of symptoms 

Causes of Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning in Horses

Your horse can be exposed to the toxins in this tree through different means. Some of those means include directly eating the pods or the seeds contained within the pods, eating leaves, and drinking water that has been contaminated with the toxins from the plant. The toxins known to be found in the plant are saponins, hydrocyanic acid, and quinolizidine alkaloids.

Diagnosis of Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning in Horses

If you suspect that your horse has come into contact with this tree and toxins, it will be vital to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Symptoms typically have an onset of 1 hour after exposure and if left untreated can result in death within 1 day of onset of symptoms.

The veterinarian will want to assess your horse’s clinical signs but may forgo the examination if the toxicity is severe. Treatment may be initiated right away. If a diagnostic process is required, the veterinarian may perform blood tests to evaluate organ involvement as well as a urinalysis to analyse kidney and liver function. Have a sample of the Kentucky Coffee tree available to show the veterinarian; identification of the plant can speed up the diagnosis. This tree will be readily identified as it is well known for its toxic properties.

Treatment of Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning in Horses

There is limited information documented about treatment options for Kentucky coffee tree poisoning. This condition typically results in the loss of the horse’s life as the onset of symptoms is quick and death happens within 1 day. 

Supportive measures as well as detoxification therapy will be attempted. Activated charcoal will be given to bind toxins and cathartic medication can assist in the movement of plant material out of the body. Your horse may be provided with hydration; anticonvulsant medication and drugs to calm seizures and convulsions may be administered.

Recovery of Kentucky Coffee Tree Poisoning in Horses

In the event your horse does survive this poisoning, he may suffer some long-term effects. He may have ongoing partial paralysis or lameness due to the exposure. This is a condition in which prevention is going to be the key. Knowing the area in which your horse is exposed to will be important, along with knowing what the poisonous tree looks like.

Preventing your horse from being exposed to the tree when the pods are freshly on the ground or when the leaves are falling will also benefit him and provide extra safety. It is also suggested to fence in the areas where the trees are located to avoid the risk of your horse coming into contact with it.