Horse owners warned about fatal sycamore tree threat

Owners are being warned about an increase in incidents of a harmful and potentially fatal condition for horses caused by ingestion of sycamore tree seeds.

The Equine Interest Group in Veterinary Ireland has highlighted a recent rise in the incidence of equine atypical myopathy.

It is also known as atypical myoglobinuria and can particularly affect autumn and /or spring grazing horses.

Equime Interest Group chairman Don Collins said horses have been known to die within 48-72 hours of the onset of symptoms, but survival rates can be improved by prompt treatment.

Symptoms include sudden onset of stiffness or muscle tremors and muscle weakness — showing as a reluctance to move and escalating to a point where the horse can no longer stand.

Owners are being urged to be particularly vigilant where horses are grazing in pastures in close proximity to seed-laden sycamore trees.

They are advised to consult with their vet swiftly if they notice the potential onset of symptoms.

Mr Collins said owners can minimise the exposure of their animals to this disease by providing plenty of good quality forage and feed if needed.

“Owners may also fence off parts of fields exposed to sycamore seeds, or alternatively move their animals to fresh pastures,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture has been alerting vets and horse owners to a number of fatal cases of equine atypical myopathy diagnosed in recent weeks, specifically in Athlone RVL.

The department notes that atypical myopathy is thought to be caused by the ingestion of hypoglycin A, a toxin contained in seeds from the sycamore (colloquially called ‘helicopters’) and related trees from the maple family.

The clinical signs include depression, sudden onset of muscle stiffness, colic-like clinical signs, and dark-coloured urine.

Young horses and those new to an affected pasture appear to be at greatest risk, especially where grass is short or scarce.

The risk period is likely to be greatest when fresh seeds are on the ground, which is in the autumn and winter.


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