Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Meadow Saffron Poisoning?

The meadow saffron is a low growing plant that produces pink or pale purple flowers in the autumn. It is also known as the autumn crocus because of their flower shape, most parts of the plant are poisonous with colchicine as well as other alkaloids. The toxic substances can cause intractable multi organ failure with your horse. If your horse has eaten meadow saffron in sufficient amounts the clinical signs will show within 48 hours with a grim prognosis after several days that is caused by cardiorespiratory collapse. This plant is becoming a problem in grasslands around the world.

Although poisonings are uncommon from this plant, they contain a poison known as colchicine, which in large amounts cause abdominal distress, ataxia and even death.

Symptoms of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

  • Abnormal stance and gait due to lack of coordination
  • Oral irritation
  • Painful abdominal cramps 
  • Thirst
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Weakness 
  • Shock 


  • This is a popular house and garden plant that packs a powerful punch if eaten by your horse
  • The leaves are large and smooth and appearing in spring and die back before flowering 
  • Flowers are pale purple or a soft white and are tubular in shape 
  • The fruit is a 3-celled oval capsule containing many seeds


Causes of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

  • The uses of some chemical sprays can enhance the usually unpalatable taste of meadow saffron which can result in attracting the attention of your horse
  • The heat or drying of these plants doesn’t affect the alkaloids at all – they retain their toxicity regardless 
  • Often caused by contaminated hay that has meadow saffron in the mix 
  • Eating of the flowers during the fading summer and early autumn 
  • Eating the leaves and the seed pods during the spring 


Diagnosis of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

You will be able to tell from your horse’s symptoms that something is clearly wrong with it. The symptoms may take a couple of days to really become obvious, or it may take just a few hours after eating for your horse to start reacting to the toxins. It depends on how much of the meadow saffron that your horse has eaten. There is no antidote this condition, just symptomatic care. Your veterinarian will be able to advise on treatments that will ease your equine friend’s condition so make sure you call on his help.

The diagnostic process may include analysis of the fecal matter and a physical examination to evaluate clinical signs such as oral irritation. Whenever you find your horse reacting to something like this, it is advisable to check the pasture for toxic weeds and pull a sample to show the veterinarian. Because all toxins affect the victim differently, the treatments vary depending on the type of toxin that has been ingested. Removal of your horse if possible to a new clean paddock or stable will help with the ongoing care of the patient.



Treatment of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

Although there is no antidote as such, treatment can range from absorbents such as activated vegetable charcoal to help prevent further absorption of the toxin, to myocardial stimulants. Your veterinarian specialist may also try intestinal demulcents and antiseptics as well as calcium gluconate. As with any poisoning, the determining factor relates to the amount of toxin ingested to the length of time and accumulation of the substance. With the toxic meadow saffron, the outcome will be determined by your horse’s condition, age and the amount eaten. Young and older horses can succumb quicker to toxins as they don’t have the ability to bounce back afterwards. Even if your horse is an adult, it will depend on the stage of health that it enjoys as to how long it can withstand the attack from toxins. 

The time taken before you notice anything is wrong and the time the veterinarian arrives at the scene are all factors that play an important part in the survival of your horse. Because of these factors, the horse owner must remain vigilant towards the health of his horse. Pasture management processes must be maintained, and gaining a knowledge of the local toxic plants that are thriving in the area is imperative to keep livestock remaining healthy. As well as checking within the paddock, check what is on the other side of the fence, your horse has an amazing ability to stretch over or through a fence to grab a free meal from the outside. If it is toxic, then it becomes a problem. So trim  and weed within and out of boundaries to be absolutely safe.



Worried about the cost of Meadow Saffron Poisoning treatment?

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Recovery of Meadow Saffron Poisoning in Horses

If your horse was lucky to be caught in the early stages of eating this plant, and veterinary assistance was sought, your horse may be one of the lucky ones who will live on. Fortunately, a lot of toxic plants are unpalatable to animals, so your horse may ignore the plant. But it is too much of a risk to just leave it there hoping that this is the case. A horse that is bored, or really hungry may try anything just to fill that need. Careful removal of meadow saffron and enhancing the quality pasture land without overgrazing is part of the normal management of your horse. One thing to be aware of is well meaning neighbours who will put lawn or shrub clippings over into the pasture for your horse. Unfortunately, these clippings are not ideal feed and can be a health hazard, so remain vigilant.



Meadow Saffron Poisoning Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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