What is Oak Tree Poisoning ?
Few sights are as beautiful as horses running freely across a green pasture. Summertime and fall in the country bring serene images of horses enjoying nature and munching on its bounty. In some cases, however, grass, leaves, branches and flowers have proven toxic to our equine companions. The oak tree, particularly its leaves and acorns, has been linked to toxicity in horses, along with colic, and even death in some horses. While some horse enthusiasts feel that leaves and acorns from oak trees are safe in small amounts, it’s advisable to protect your horse from any potential source of toxicity. Fencing horses off from plants and trees associated with illness and allergy is one means of protection. For more information about grasses, leaves and flowers in your region that might lead to health problems for your horse, please contact your veterinarian.
Plants contain different amounts of the acidic chemical known as tannin. While tannin bears a sour taste, equines have a tendency to consume bark, leaves and acorns containing the chemical. Oak trees, in particular, contain high levels of tannin, with the greatest concentration found in red or black oak varieties, and the least found in white oak varieties. Currently, oaks are in plentiful supply across the United States. The largest amounts of tannin in the oak are found within the tree’s leaves and green acorns. Acorns, in particular, have the capability of causing serious damage to the liver and kidneys. Many horse owners have reported instances of colic and gastro-intestinal distress in their horses, particularly in the springtime. In some cases, horses that consume medium to large amounts of these acorns are unable to recover from the serious damage done to the intestinal lining. Additionally, the toxins may halt the production of beneficial bacteria, an insult that may lead to a weakening of connective tissue. Overall, the potential for oak tree poisoning is unknown from horse to horse.
Owners are reminded to supply good quality hay so horses are less apt to crave alternative sources of fiber. Even in cases of well-fed horses, some may develop a taste for poisonous plants and acorns, necessitating the removal of broken or low-hanging branches, the installation of fencing, or the eventual removal of the horse from the pasture.
The oak tree, particularly its leaves and acorns, has been linked to allergies, colic, poisoning, and even death in some horses.
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Symptoms of Oak Tree Poisoning in Horses
- Loss of appetite
- Excess salivation
- Foaming at mouth
- Blood in urine or manure
- Frequent urination
- Manure dark in color
- Constipation leading to diarrhea
- Colic-type pain
- Slow or irregular heart rate
- Elevated temperature
- Pale mucous membranes
- Mouth sores
- Watery eyes
- Edema in the neck and abdomen
- Liver and kidney failure
- Respiratory distress
Causes of Oak Tree Poisoning in Horses
Tannin is a toxic chemical stored in many plants, including the leaves, branches and acorns of the oak. The tannin enters the horse through consumption of the parts of the tree, resulting in symptoms such as respiratory distress, abdominal pain, malaise, and blood in the manure and urine.
Diagnosis of Oak Tree Poisoning in Horses
Horse owners typically note the horse’s consumption of plants and trees in pastures and other living areas. It is important to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect your horse has eaten acorns/bark/leaves from an oak or another unknown plant. Some horses may develop an allergic reaction as opposed to a poisoning, but may still need immediate treatment. Veterinarians are well-acquainted with the symptoms of oak tree poisoning, and will recognize the condition in the horse. Clinical signs, such as constipation or diarrhea, a swollen abdomen, and frequent urination (sometimes containing blood) may point to toxicity. In addition, blood work may show abnormal markers and function of the liver and kidneys.
Treatment of Oak Tree Poisoning in Horses
First, your horse must be removed from the area of the source of toxicity. Horses suspected of oak tree poisoning are generally be given IV fluids in order to flush out toxins and to provide extra fluids in cases of dehydration. The veterinarian may also administer mineral oil and charcoal to help rid the tannic acid from the horse’s GI system. Hay and water will also help to dilute the strength of the tannin. Your horse may be given gastrointestinal protectants, anti-inflammatories, and pain medication for discomfort. Horses with a particularly keen sensitivity to the chemical may die from consumption.
Recovery of Oak Tree Poisoning in Horses
The most important step in recovery is to flush the tannin from the horse. To protect your horse from subsequent poisoning, learn about the trees and plants that grow in living and activity areas. Aside from always keeping up with environmental maintenance (such as ridding the area of tall grasses, fallen leaves, acorns, broken and low-hanging branches), providing additional fencing, or removing the horse from the area may be required.