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Fall Health Concerns for Horses

Fall is a picturesque season for horseback riding, but certain factors can pose health risks for horses. In this article, we will discuss specific concerns related to falling leaves, frost, and grazing habits during the autumn months.

 Maple Leaf Toxicosis: Toxicity and Symptoms

The ingestion of dried or wilted maple leaves can lead to toxicosis in horses. While fresh leaves are generally not toxic, dried leaves pose a risk. Toxicosis typically occurs in autumn during normal leaf fall. Horses affected by toxicosis may display symptoms such as depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, and dark red or brown urine. In severe cases, horses may experience difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, and ultimately, death. To prevent maple leaf toxicosis, it is advisable to keep horses fenced out of areas where wilted maple leaves are abundant.

Cyanide Toxicity from Prunus Species: Risk and Consequences

Plants belonging to the Prunus species, such as cherries, contain cyanide. Ingesting the plant or its seeds, or consuming wilted plant material after a frost, can release cyanide, posing a risk to horses. Cyanide toxicity can cause rapid death, with affected animals typically found deceased within minutes to a few hours after ingestion. It is important to remove Prunus species from horse pastures to prevent potential cyanide toxicity.

Frost-Damaged Pastures: Potential Risks and Precautions

Frost-damaged pastures, including grass and legume species, can have higher concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates. This increase in carbohydrates raises the risk of conditions like founder, colic, and laminitis, especially in horses prone to obesity, laminitis, and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. To mitigate potential adverse effects, horse owners are advised to wait for up to a week after the first killing frost before turning horses back onto the pasture. Subsequent frosts do not pose the same concerns, as the pasture plants were already killed during the initial frost.

Awareness and Precautions

Being aware of fall health concerns for horses is crucial for maintaining their well-being during this season. Avoiding the ingestion of dried or wilted maple leaves and removing Prunus species from pastures can help prevent toxicities. Additionally, understanding the risks associated with grazing frost-damaged pastures allows horse owners to make informed decisions and take necessary precautions to prevent conditions like founder and colic. By staying vigilant and implementing appropriate measures, horse owners can ensure a safe and healthy fall season for their equine companions.

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This article is reprinted with permission from Krishona Martinson, University of Minnesota.