Warning over risks posed by sycamore trees to horses

Sycamore Maple leaves (Acer pseudoplatanus).
Sycamore Maple leaves (Acer pseudoplatanus). © JoJan

The threat of the dangerous disease, Atypical Myopathy, caused by horses ingesting a toxin found in the seeds of sycamore trees, has been highlighted by a British charity, which is mourning the loss of one of its rehomed ponies to the condition.

The Blue Cross is urging horse owners to stay vigilant and to keep their horses away from sycamore trees.

It said one of its rehomed ponies had been tragically lost to the disease, after seeds were inadvertently brought on to the new owner’s field by floodwaters.

Atypical Myopathy is a highly fatal muscle disease in Britain and Northern Europe. It is thought to be caused by the ingestion of hypoglycin A, a toxin contained in seeds from the sycamore tree (Acer pseudoplatanus).

An equivalent condition in the USA, referred to as Seasonal Pasture Myopathy (SPM), has been linked to hypoglycin A toxins from the box elder tree (Acer negundo).

British vets have seen an alarming rise in new cases of the disease this spring.

Young horses appear to be more susceptible, as are those being grazed on parched land.

“Horse owners need to be alert at all times but especially during the spring and autumn months,” said Blue Cross vet Natasha Seely, of Bourton Vale Equine Clinic in Gloucestershire.

“If they are worried that their horse may be showing any symptoms they must call their vet immediately.

“The signs range from depression, muscle weakness, recumbency, choke or colic-like symptoms to dark red urine. The sooner AM is diagnosed the better the likely outcome.”

Blue Cross education officer Gemma Taylor said; “One of our horses in an experienced loan home unfortunately lost his battle with this fatal disease last week.

“Although his field did not have any sycamore trees nearby it is thought that he had ingested seeds brought in by floodwater.

“This tragic incident has brought it home how horrific this disease can be and how all horse owners have to stay alert to the dangers to try to minimise this dreadful disease.”

The Blue Cross, working with veterinary experts at Bourton Vale Equine Clinic, has put together some tips to help horse owners prevent horses falling victim:

  • Feed forage such as hay in parched fields off the floor, in haynets, or feed racks;
  • Do not over stock;
  • Limit turnout. Ideally stable horses overnight;
  • Section off areas around poisonous trees and collect and dispose of leaves safely away from horses;
  • Remove young sapling sycamore trees;
  • Be careful of streams running through paddocks as the disease appears to be more prevalent in moist places;
  • Be vigilant of the potential signs of this disease and act quickly if a horse becomes poorly;
  • Ensure horses are checked regularly, at least twice a day;
  • Check that vet insurance is up to date.

More on Atypical Myopathy can be found here

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