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What is Tobacco Plant Poisoning?

Tobacco is a historical plant that goes back to usage from the earliest of Americans. The Native American tribes of the Eastern part of North America used tobacco for a variety of reasons, including for smoking in pipes, and it was also very beneficial in trade. The cultivation of tobacco in colonial times was very popular and also used for trade.

Tobacco, known as Nicotiana tabacum, has leafy, large leaves that is native to subtropical and tropical America, and has delicate white and pink shaded flowers which are shaped like little trumpets. All parts of the plant are poisonous except for the seeds. Older plants yield a higher concentration of nicotine within the plant.

Tobacco contains nicotine and pyridine, and is toxic to horses. Nicotine on the body has many complex effects that are negative. Nicotine affects that central nervous system and the brain, and when ingested is a serious stimulant as well as a depressant.

Tobacco plant poisoning in horses is a result of horses ingesting all or part of the tobacco plant. Nicotine is toxic to horses and medical attention is necessary.

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Symptoms of Tobacco Plant Poisoning in Horses

Symptoms of tobacco plant toxicity vary depending on the amount ingested. Symptoms of nicotine and pyridine toxicity in horses include:

  • Muscle tremors
  • Ataxia
  • Pale mucous membranes
  • Drooling
  • Confusion
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

Types

There are several types of factors that determine the concentration of nicotine in a tobacco plant. Types of situations that can change the level of toxicity include:

  • Quality of soil
  • Season
  • The growth stage of the plant
  • Weather conditions
  • Environmental factors
  • Age of plant

Causes of Tobacco Plant Poisoning in Horses

Nicotine has a negative effect on the central nervous system and brain. Causes of tobacco poisoning in horses include:

  • Affecting the hypothalamus
  • Affecting the pituitary gland
  • Nicotine crosses over the blood to brain barrier
  • Nicotine accumulates within the brain
  • Awareness is heightened
  • Central nervous system becomes depressed

Diagnosis of Tobacco Plant Poisoning in Horses

If you suspect your horse is suffering from tobacco plant poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will ask questions pertaining to his symptoms and how long you have observed any clinical signs. If you are certain your horse has eaten tobacco plant, take a piece of the plant to the veterinarian with you. It is important to explain to the veterinarian if you are certain he has ingested this toxic plant, and how much he may have consumed.

Your veterinarian may perform laboratory tests to confirm nicotine poisoning. There are a variety of tests, such as blood work/biochemistry analysis and tissue analysis which can confirm any nicotine in the horse’s system. The testing of urine samples and kidneys, as well as the liver, can help the veterinarian come to a definitive diagnosis. 

The veterinarian may also choose to take a sample of your horse’s stomach contents. The contents of the stomach will also have a distinct odor of nicotine, in which your veterinarian will be familiar with. He may also choose to perform tests on the contents of your horse’s stomach.

Treatment of Tobacco Plant Poisoning in Horses

If your horse is suffering from tobacco plant toxicity, your veterinarian will immediately begin treatment. Treatment methods include:

Activated Charcoal

Your veterinarian may administer activated charcoal to your horse. Activated charcoal is effective at absorbing the toxic contents of the stomach and preventing them from further absorption into your horse’s organs and blood stream.

Fluid Therapy

Fluid therapy by IV is important in reestablishing hydration and electrolytes in your horse. Fluid therapy also encourages urination and proper kidney function. Many horses that suffer from any poisoning, namely plant poisoning, benefit from receiving plenty of hydration through this therapy.

Symptomatic Treatment

Your veterinarian will treat your horse for any other symptoms as a result of his toxicity. Your horse may need to stay with the veterinarian for a few days so he can be monitored, continue to receive IV fluids, and possibly be administered a repeated dose of activated charcoal.

Recovery of Tobacco Plant Poisoning in Horses

Your veterinarian will explain to you the condition of your horse and his prognosis. Typically, horses that respond well to treatment within 12 hours are able to recover. Once you take your horse home, it will be very important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions. If you see any new signs or symptoms, or behavioral changes, do not hesitate to contact your medical professional.

In order to prevent tobacco plant poisoning or other plant poisoning, survey your property to be sure all toxic plants and trees are removed. If you are unsure of the plants on your property, you can contact your veterinarian or any horticultural expert for an explanation of the types of plants and if they are harmful to your horse.

Also, if you borrow machinery from others for your pasture, be sure it is from a reputable source in that it has been thoroughly cleaned and inspected before using it on your pasture.