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What is Pangola Grass Poisoning?

Pangola grass, scientifically known as Digitaria eriantha, is a grass used for hay and pasture within the tropical and subtropical climates. This grass is able to withstand a great deal of grazing and originated in South Africa. This perennial grass has a large number of species and grows and spreads very rapidly. It is spread by cutting and the use of the stolon pieces. Stolons grow at the surface of the soil or just below the surface and the roots are formed at the nodes. Pangola grass is considered a “runner” type of plant in that it grows and spreads very quickly as it is cut.

Although pangola grass is hardy and is used for feeding, over time the chemicals in the grass cause calcium to quickly pass through their manure. Over a period of time, the horse’s body continues to reabsorb much-needed calcium from their bones. This causes a myriad of symptoms, namely very weakened bones within the face and skull. If a horse is consuming pangola grass, they must be supplemented with calcium in order to avoid any health problems.

Pangola grass poisoning in horses is a result of horses consistently ingesting pangola grass, which contains soluble calcium oxalates. This can cause mild to moderate symptoms and needs to be treated by a veterinarian in order to protect affected horses renal systems.

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Symptoms of Pangola Grass Poisoning in Horses

If your course has ingested pangola grass, his symptoms may be mild to severe, depending on how much he consumed. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Lameness
  • Swollen head
  • Recumbency
  • Colic
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation

Types

Pangola grass has several different names in which it is referred. Other types of names for pangola grass include:

  • Digit grass
  • Woolly finger grass
  • Pangola 
  • Common finger grass
  • Pasto Pangola
  • Giant pangola grass
  • Pangola Gigante
  • Digitaire

Causes of Pangola Grass Poisoning in Horses

Pangola grass contains soluble oxalates which can affect your horse. Specific causes of toxicity include:

  • Soluble oxalates affect the gastrointestinal tract, causing irritation and inflammation
  • Cause hypocalcemia
  • Bind and seize calcium and magnesium in the horse’s body
  • Inhibit enzyme and cellular functions of the horse

Diagnosis of Pangola Grass Poisoning in Horses

If you suspect your horse has ingested pangola grass, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will assess his symptoms and ask you questions pertaining to how much he ingested. Although ingestion of soluble calcium oxalates in horses is rarely severe, your horse may be in some discomfort and need to receive immediate treatment. Your veterinarian may go ahead and begin giving your horse fluids and treating his symptoms. He will take a blood count via blood testing, perform a urinalysis, and a biochemistry profile. 

Your veterinarian will need to rule out any differential diagnoses that have similar symptoms. Your veterinarian will need to be sure your horse’s oxalate toxicity and possible hypocalcemia are not occurring from a poor diet, tetany, lactation tetany, or too much exercise in a short amount of time. He will need to also rule out any renal disease, heavy metal poisoning, and other conditions which can be caused by too much soluble calcium oxalates.

Your veterinarian will perform a test to see if your horse has hypocalcemia, a liver enzyme test, and will want to test the contents of his stomach to check for any plant material. Other laboratory testing will be conducted to check for hyperkalemia, azotemia, albuminuria, proteinuria, and hematuria.  All of these are clinical signs of soluble oxalate poisoning from many different plants, and in this case, pangola grass.

Treatment of Pangola Grass Poisoning in Horses

If your horse has soluble oxalate poisoning due to the ingestion of pangola grass, your veterinarian will outline a few treatment options for your companion. Treatment options may include:

Fluids

Your veterinarian will give your horse fluids to replace any deficits in electrolytes and volume. Fluid therapy will also restore any abnormal acid-base levels which is critical in any case of possible renal failure. Fluids will also restore your horse’s gastrointestinal system due to the oxalate toxicity.

Monitoring

Your horse will need to be hospitalized either overnight or for a few days so he can continue to be monitored by your medical professional. Fluids will be given continuously, as this is the main method of treatment for this condition. The administration of fluids helps to diminish the precipitation of the oxalate crystals in the kidney lumen (renal tubule lumen). Your horse’s symptoms will be treated and your horse’s vital signs will also be monitored through repeated blood work. His respiration and heart rate will be closely watched as well. 

Medication

Calcium gluconate may be given within your horse’s intravenous injection. Your medical professional will be monitoring his serum concentrations of chloride, potassium, urea nitrogen, creatinine, and other properties to be sure your horse is not suffering from kidney failure.

Recovery of Pangola Grass Poisoning in Horses

Once you are able to bring your horse home, your veterinarian will have specific instructions on how to care for him. He will explain to you what to watch for in terms of new symptoms. Your companion will need a lot of rest to recover. Your veterinarian may recommend special feed for a few days so his stomach and gastrointestinal system can recover from any inflammation or irritation.

Removing all plants with soluble calcium oxalate from the pasture needs to be done in order to prevent this from happening in the future. You can contact your veterinarian or your local farrier to receive assistance on how to identify any toxic plants.

Your veterinarian will want to see your horse for follow-up visits to be sure he is becoming well again. He will explain to you when you may start working or exercising him again, and he will suggest to you when he can resume his regular diet. Be sure to give your horse plenty of fresh water and make sure he is drinking regularly.