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Acorn Toxicity

Acorn Poisoning - a life threatening yet avoidable disease:

Acorns, leaves and other parts of the oak tree contain poisonous tannins. Unlike pigs (which are able to safely eat acorns), when these tannins are digested by horses they produce toxins which can cause serious damage to the intestines, liver and kidneys. Despite being toxic, acorn poisoning if fortunately uncommon in horses and it seems that certain individual horses are more susceptible to acorn poisoning than others. There also appears to be 'good years' and 'bad years', with few cases of poisoning occurring most years, but larger numbers happening in other years; why this happens is uncertain, but it may relate to the size of the acorn crop in any particular year. Regardless of how common acorn poisoning is, it is a potentially life-threatening disease and it makes sense to try to limit horses' access to acorns.

What signs does this cause?

Some fortunate horses have a higher intrinsic tolerance to acorns and may not develop disease following ingestion. Alternatively, some horses will become extremely sick after consuming only a small number or acorns or leaves. The damage that acorn toxins cause to the intestine can lead to diarrhoeawhich often contains blood. This intestinal damage can be painful, causing colic signs to be shown. In addition, horses can develop secondary gas distention of the colon which can also lead to colic signs. In some cases, despite being quite sick, the only signs seen might be lethargyreduced appetite or increased time lying down. Some horses will develop an increased body temperature. Unfortunately in some horses, this disease becomes rapidly fatal.

How can acorn poisoning be prevented?

This disease can be prevented by protecting horses from ingesting acorns and other parts of the oak tree. If possible, oak trees and an area around them should be fenced-off in order to prevent acorns from falling onto grazing pastures. Acorns and leaves should be collected and removed from any unfenced areas as regularly as possible. Practically however, it may not be possibly to do this frequently enough to prevent ingestion. Provision of supplementary forage for horses turned out on poor pastures may help decrease the risk of acorn ingestion. If it is not possible to fence-off or frequently collect acorns from the pasture, then stabling should be considered.

What should I do if I think my horse has eaten acorns?

If you think your horse may have consumed acorns, we recommend you contact your vet who will be able to advise you on the best course of action, this will likely involve a physical assessment of the horse and maybe further tests.

If you have any questions about this disease, please feel free to contact us at BELL EQUINE on 01622 813700.