First Walk is on Us!

✓ GPS tracked walks
✓ Activity reports
✓ On-demand walkers
Book FREE Walk

Jump to Section

What is Spurge Poisoning?

Poisoning from spurge plant can occur by contact or by ingestion. The plant contains a sap with a toxic component that can cause irritation and inflammation in your horse if he comes into contact with it. If he ingests it, it can cause gastrointestinal upset and possibly painful urination. There is no antidote to spurge poisoning, but supportive therapies in response to symptoms developed are extremely effective. Prognosis of recovery varies depending on the severity of the symptoms, but in many cases, horses recover very well.

The spurge plant produces a sap containing a toxin that can cause damage to your horse when he comes into contact with it or if he ingests it. Contact your veterinarian immediately for consultation in regards of how to treat your horse.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms of spurge poisoning may include:

  • Inflammation and swelling of (mucous membranes, mouth, tongue) 
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Weakness
  • Inflammation/irritation of the skin
  • Inflammation/irritation of the eyes
  • Temporary blindness 
  • Coldness in extremities 
  • Inflammation of the urethra 
  • Painful urination 

With constant irritation, it can lead to 

  • Blistering 
  • Hair loss 

Spurge is considered unpalatable to many animals making toxicity from ingestion is uncommon but possible.

Types

There are multiple types of spurge plant with the two most common being creeping and spotted. Creeping spurge belongs to the genus Euphorbia spp. while spotted spurge genus is Chamaesyce spp. The spotted spurge also goes by the common name of sandmat. The spurge plant can be found erect or can be prostrate depending on the species. All species have a milky sap within the plant that can be seen when the stems or leaves are broken or pulled. This plant also produces a three-chambered fruit.

Causes of Spurge Poisoning in Horses

The sap of the spurge plant contains the component diterpenoids which is toxic when ingested in large doses. All parts of the plant produce the sap making the entire plant toxic if ingested, no matter the part. In small doses, it may not affect your horse or he may develop only mild symptoms of upset. However, if ingested in large amounts it is very toxic. In its fresh green or even in dried form, the plant retains its toxicity.

Diagnosis of Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Diagnosis of spurge plant poisoning will come from a combination of the symptoms your horse is experiencing, his history, and any lab work results. 

Your veterinarian will begin by performing a full physical exam on your horse. She will take note of any and all symptoms he is experiencing in order to come to a complete diagnosis. Poisoning from the spurge plant can cause a variety of symptoms so examining your horse entirely is extremely important.

She may also want to run some lab work to check how your horse’s organs are functioning. Blood work will begin with a complete blood count and chemistry panel. The results will indicate how the organs are filtering the toxin and what types of supportive therapies may be beneficial to begin. She may want to run more diagnostic lab work depending on the results of the initial tests. One test may be a urinalysis to check for other causes of your horse’s painful urination.

Your veterinarian may choose to take a walk about your paddocks and pasture in order to identify possible poisonous plants. Recommendations of what to remove will be given if a noxious plant is indeed found, in this particular case, the spurge plant.

Treatment of Spurge Poisoning in Horses

There is no cure for poisoning from spurge plant ingestion, but supportive therapy will be administered while waiting for the toxin to leave his system. The symptoms your horse is experiencing will determine the course of supportive treatment the veterinarian will recommend. If there was contact with the eyes or skin, she will recommend flushing the affected area immediately and possibly applying or administering a medication to help with the pain and inflammation. 

The swelling of the mouth may affect his appetite and ability to drink so she will want to ensure he is staying hydrated and his digestive tract moving. She may want to begin fluid therapy to prevent dehydration from developing. If your horse is experiencing some type of discomfort or inflammation from ingesting the plant, she may administer a pain medication or anti-inflammatory to help. 

If your horse develops temporary blindness, it would be a good idea to keep him confined in a quiet, calm area to ensure he does not accidentally hurt himself. This will also allow you to keep a close eye on him and ensure he does not become a potential prey item to predators.

Recovery of Spurge Poisoning in Horses

Keeping your property free from spurge plant is ideal but not always possible; at the very least, keep areas containing possible toxic plants mowed down and refrain from allowing your horse contact. In cases of toxicity, the severity of the symptoms your horse develops will play a role in his recovery process. Keeping him safe and warm while providing the needed therapies will help greatly in his recovery. Prognosis is good to guarded depending on if the plant was ingested and how much, or if the symptoms are from contact with the sap.