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Red maple leaves can kill your horses

Most horse owners know about common toxic plants and trees that can play havoc on their horses’ health or even cause death such as wild choke cherry and numerous weeds. Research has increasingly come up with other potential plant culprits proven to cause problems in horses. In an article on May 30 published by Our Windsor, Brad Pritchard writes about one particular Thoroughbred and her death, caused from eating red maple leaves

Recognizing red maple leaves

Jill Swift, Baxter, Canada, considered maple leaves harmless enough. She knew about several toxic plants but was unaware that red maple leaves were problematic. Swift was dismayed when her veterinarian confirmed that her horse, Sophie, died as a result of eating red maple leaves. No one in the area knew that red maple leaves could be toxic to horses.

Pritchard tells of Swift’s shock at the cause of Sophie’s death. She said,

Most horse owners are aware of many weeds that can be harmful to your horse but not a lot of people are aware of these fallen, dead leaves.

Eight-year-old Sophie went down in the field near the fenceline of a neighboring farm that has live red maple trees and a huge fallen tree. Wilted leaves had blown into Sophie’s pasture and she had apparently eaten some of them. When Sophie was found, she was having muscle spasms and had the onset of kidney failure. Her urine was red.

Swift moved Sophie into the stable on Monday, and did everything she could for the horse. She took the whole week off work to be at her side and make her comfortable. But for Sophie, it was too late and she died within four days.

Dr. John Baird, who is a professor emeritus at Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, is an expert in equine renal and hepatic diseases. Baird confirms that Acer Rubrum [red maple leaves] are highly toxic to horses, especially in the wilted stage. When a horse ingests these leaves, after they are absorbed into the digestive tract, serious damage results to the red blood cells. The horse becomes weak, depressed, and increasingly lethargic with increased respiration.

The horse shows symptoms as quickly as one or two days after ingestion of red maple leaves. Statistics have shown that around 60 percent of horses suffering from the toxicity of the leaves will die. More cases occur in the summer and fall because trees are leafed out – storms can cause broken branches and shed leaves in summer and all of the leaves come down in fall.

Absolutely the best way to avoid the possibility of toxicity to horses is not to plant red maple trees in or near horse pastures and to cut them down before the leaves can do any damage.

Swift hopes that sharing her story will help other horse owners avoid a similar fate to their horses.

Visit Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, (OMAFRA), for authoritative information about toxic plants and horse health care.

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