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What is Scotch Broom Poisoning ?

Scotch broom, (formal name Cytisus scoparius), also known as common broom, is an invasive perennial shrub with ribbed branches originating in western and central Europe. First brought to North America for landscaping, the plant has done very well and is considered invasive in several U.S. states and in parts of western Canada. The plant showcases spectacular yellow pea-like flowers and was used by European immigrants as a coffee substitute, herbal remedy, and yellow dye.

Scotch broom has modest amounts of alkaloids which, when absorbed in the blood, can impact both the central nervous system and circulatory system.

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) is an invasive perennial that contains alkaloids that when ingested, can affect the central nervous and circulatory systems of your horse.

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Symptoms of Scotch Broom Poisoning in Horses

The severity of your horse’s symptoms will depend upon the amount of the plant ingested in relation to his size. You may notice the following symptoms:

  • Stomach discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Muscle tremors
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Excess salivation
  • Lethargy
  • Disinterest in eating
  • Nausea
  • Numbness
  • Weakness

Types 

Common gorse (Ulex europaeus) and spanish broom (Spartium junceum) have a similar appearance to Scotch Broom and grow in the same places. 

Common gorse has many thorns among its branches and its branches and fruit can cause toxicity. The central nervous system will be affected in common gorse, not the cardiovascular system.

Spanish broom includes the same poison alkaloids as Scotch broom. There are higher levels of sparteine in the spanish broom which can lead to a drop in blood pressure that can be very dangerous.

Causes of Scotch Broom Poisoning in Horses

Alkaloids are responsible for toxicity when scotch broom is consumed. The alkaloids are present in the twigs, leaves and seeds of the scotch broom. Some of the alkaloids that are present include anagyrine, lupanine, ammondendrine, sparteine and cytisine. Alkaloids are alkaline chemicals that carry nitrogen beginning in the plants. Coming from amino acids, these alkaloids can greatly impact the nervous system. Poisoning from the scotch broom is typically mild as it takes large amounts of the plant to lead to symptoms in your horse.

Diagnosis of Scotch Broom Poisoning in Horses

Should you witness your horse ingesting Scotch broom, you can cut a sample of the plant to give to your veterinarian for identification, as this can help in making a diagnosis in your horse. If you did not see your horse consume the plant though suspect that he is experiencing poisoning, you can bring samples of the plants he has access to. Upon meeting with your veterinarian, your horse will undergo a physical examination and you will be asked for information regarding the symptoms you have noticed in your horse, when you first noticed them and any changes you have witnessed.

Your veterinarian will also get detailed information from you about your horse’s diet and any supplements or medications he is taking. A urinalysis, biochemistry profile and complete blood count will be administered, which will help to rule out other causes of your horse’s symptoms. Plant material found in the mouth or in the stool may be tested in order to confirm scotch broom toxicity.

Treatment of Scotch Broom Poisoning in Horses

While there is no specific treatment for scotch broom poisoning, your veterinarian will treat the symptoms that your horse is experiencing and provide supportive care. Activated charcoal may be administered, depending on the time between ingestion of the poison and the beginning of treatment. Intravenous fluids may be utilized to ensure that your horse does not become dehydrated as a result of the diarrhea. As the toxins can impact your horse’s heart, his heart function may be continually monitored during his treatment.

Recovery of Scotch Broom Poisoning in Horses

Should your horse experience scotch broom poisoning, you will want to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure the best possible outcome for him. It is important to ensure that your horse has food and fresh water available and plenty of down time while he recovers from the toxicity. 

While your horse is recovering you will want to explore the areas that he has access to and make sure that any scotch broom or other toxic plants are removed so as to not cause problems for your horse in the future.