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What is Mother of Millions Poisoning?

Mother of Millions (Bryophyllum Sp.) is a member of the family Crassulaceae. Also called Mother-in-Law-Plant, Kalanchoe, Devil’s Backbone and Chandelier Plant, Mother of Millions are native to Africa and Madagascar and as they are very tolerant to drought conditions can easily dominate pastures that have experienced dry conditions. A perennial succulent, the plants average 1 meter in height and flower from May to October. One plant is able to reproduce through a great number of embryoids that develop on the edge of the leaves.  

The plant contains cardiac glycosides that are very toxic. Fortunately, the plant is very unpalatable, however because they can be so invasive, they are a risk to horses who may ingest the plant when other feed is scarce.

All parts of the plant are toxic, with the flowers containing the greatest amount of the toxin.

A member of the family Crassulaceae, Mother of Millions is a plant that thrives in drought conditions and contains cardiac glycosides that can cause significant toxicity in horses.

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Symptoms of Mother of Millions Poisoning in Horses

Should your horse ingest a small amount of the plant over the course of a few days, he can experience colic and develop diarrhea, which may be bloody. He can also have an abnormal heartbeat, have cold extremities and experience shortness of breath. Some who consume the plant will drool, dribble urine and ultimately die of heart failure. Ingesting a large amount of the plant can lead to sudden death. 

  • Diarrhea
  • Colic
  • Heartbeat changes
  • Respiratory difficulty
  • Cold extremities
  • Hypersalivation
  • Heart failure
  • Death

Types 

Mother of Millions is a member of the Crassulaceae family, which has around 200 species, most of which grow in Australia, Madagascar and Africa. Ten of the species are common in the United States.

Causes of Mother of Millions Poisoning in Horses

Mother of Millions is toxic due to bufadienolides that can cause heart failure in your horse. The toxins are in all parts of the plant, though flowers are five times more poisonous than the plant’s leaves or stems.

Poisoning from the toxin may be cumulative; animals that eat small amounts of the plant within a few days may experience poisoning. Should a large amount of the plant be ingested, your horse can die suddenly of heart failure. The poisoning is most likely to occur during the time where the plants are flowering (from May to October). 

In addition to toxicity being caused due to ingesting the plant, Mother of Millions can also cause toxicity when included in hay.

Diagnosis of Mother of Millions Poisoning in Horses

Should you witness your horse ingest Mother of Millions, or suspect that he may have based on symptoms you are noticing, contact your veterinarian immediately. It is a good idea to bring a sample of the plant you saw him ingest or believe he may have ingested as this can be helpful to your veterinarian in making a diagnosis. 

Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination of your horse and ask you for information regarding the symptoms you have noticed, when you first noticed them and any changes that you have observed. Your veterinarian will likely conduct blood testing (a complete blood count), a urinalysis, a biochemistry profile and a blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test. Should your horse experience poisoning from Mother of Millions, many of his BUN levels will be increased. A decrease in specific gravity and increases in lipase, glucose and amylase may be shown in a urinalysis.

A CT scan or MRI may be conducted to see if any internal damage has occurred. While there are blood tests that can detect cardiac glycosides, they are very expensive which makes them difficult to use for diagnosis.

Treatment of Mother of Millions Poisoning in Horses

Your horse may be able to recover slowly should he have ingested small amounts of the plant and has not experienced significant heart damage. It is imperative that he receive treatment within 24 hours of ingesting the poisonous material; after that time the function of his heart is typically so impacted that he cannot survive. 

Toxins are usually quickly absorbed when cardiac glycoside poisoning is experienced. Activated charcoal may be used to absorb as many toxins as is possible, and gastric lavage may be conducted to clear out remaining toxins from your horse’s stomach. 

Your horse will likely require supportive treatment to include intravenous fluids so that he does not become dehydrated, as well as to avoid an electrolyte imbalance. If your horse’s heart rate is abnormal, medication may be used to help it normalize.

Recovery of Mother of Millions Poisoning in Horses

Should the heart of your horse not experience too much damage he may be able to recover slowly from Mother of Millions poisoning. Recovery will require rest and it will be important that you work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the best outcome for your horse.

Make sure to walk the area or areas where your horse grazes to be sure that any individual Mother of Millions plants are removed. This can be done by hand and it is important to be sure that no plant material is left that your horse can mistakenly ingest. All hay should be checked to be sure that there is no contamination with Mother of Millions.