What is ragwort?
Ragwort is a yellow-flowered plant, usually found in rough or unkempt land or pastures. In flower form and from a horse’s point of view, it has a bitter taste and is not appealing… unless there’s very little else to eat! When ragwort wilts, dries up or mixes in with hay or grass, it loses its sour taste. This is where the horse becomes more likely to ingest it.
The horse doesn’t need to take in a large amount of ragwort to cause problems. The plant poses an added threat because symptoms might not appear straight away; in fact, the horse may not show any symptoms for months, even years after ingestion.
Ragwort contains toxins that damage the horse’s liver. A horse’s liver can function until just over half of it has shut down and this is why symptoms aren’t always visible straight away. The danger of this is that when symptoms do become visible, the horse’s condition is already very serious.
Symptoms of ragwort poisoning
- A yellowing of the gums and eyes
- Lack of appetite, leading to weight loss
- Red/inflamed skin that appears scabby or sunburnt
- General disorientation or strange behaviour – restlessness, depression, circling, pressing their head against the wall
Keeping your horse safe
Sadly, there are no treatments for the liver damage that occurs as a result of ragwort poisoning. Treatments can include dietary alterations and the use of supplements to aid the liver function, but it’s not ideal to have to depend on these methods. Therefore, like with almost every aspect of responsible pet ownership, prevention is better than cure. You can take the following actions to reduce your horse’s exposure to the ragwort plant:
- Remove ragwort from any pasture that the horse has access to – the earlier into their life cycle, the better (before the plant has time to seed!) Dig up the plants, taking away all of the roots, or as much as you can.
- Wear gloves when handling ragwort or wash your hands between touching it and interacting with your horse.
- Take every measure you can to make sure that the horse’s hay does not contain ragwort. Chat to us for more advice.
- Have your horse blood-tested routinely, this will not prevent poisoning but it allows experts to spot any worrying signs before they get too severe.
If you need further help or information about ragwort and keeping your horse safe, don’t hesitate to get in touch or come and see us!